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This fearless England team may have changed the way the country regards the national team forever

·6-min read
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“Bless them,” said Gareth Southgate of a new generation of England fans.

“They think it’s like this all the time.”

It most certainly is not. This is anything but normal. This is the stuff of the wildest of dreams, the stuff of legend for generations to come.

Drink it all in. Savour every delicious, euphoric moment and keep that feeling of indescribable elation in your heart, your belly, your mind for as long as you possibly can.

For those who have experienced 55 years of hurt, the reality of what is happening to the national team is hard to comprehend.

For those who think this is the norm, it should be just as sweet. It is just the magnitude of it may only be fully appreciated in the years to come.

Either way this is a seminal moment for English football. The realisation of the most fantastical of dreams and – crucially – the promise of more to come.

A 2-1 extra time victory against Denmark puts England into their first final since 1966 and 90 minutes away from only the second trophy in their history.

But Gareth Southgate has laid the foundations of so much more.

This is a new England unlike any we have seen for a lifetime.

The score-line alone does not come close to describing what unfolded at Wembley in what was the confirmation of a rebranded Three Lions, who may have changed the way the country regards the national team forever.

To put this achievement in context, consider where England were on that June night in 2016, the humiliation of defeat to Iceland, and ask yourself where you thought they would be five years from then.


When the last vestiges of the so-called Golden Generation fought their last fight.


And – be honest - what your gut instinct was when Southgate – via the calamitously short stint of Sam Allardyce – was given responsibility to steer the ship?

Not even Southgate himself could have hoped for a World Cup semi-final, followed by a European Championship Final and who knows what else within two tournaments?

 (AP)
(AP)

That is what he has delivered – against all odds and, let’s face it, logic.

He has been the man to break new barriers – and here was another as the semi-final hoodoo was finally broken.

England are finding new ways to win under him, rather than new ways to lose, which had been the pattern for so long.

Here was England coming from behind, overcoming the nerves of the occasion that inhibited them for much of the first half.

Here was England emerging after half time to seize control of a game that had been out of their control and growing in strength as Denmark wilted.

When the board was raised to confirm six minutes of injury time at the end of an exhausting, pulsating and nail-biting first 90, it was England who drove forward to find a winner – Denmark who clung on for extra time.

There was no sense of fear in the legs or minds of players that one misplaced pass could end their dream, just the overwhelming intent to win it on their terms.

Declan Rice – so reserved and harassed in the first 45 minutes was winning every ball deep in Denmark’s half.

Luke Shaw and Kyle Walker were pressed high up in the corners offering overloads on each wing.
Jack Grealish, brought on to drag Denmark out of shape, was scrambling minds and creating openings.

This was an England who were hungry to win, not afraid to lose.

In extra time, as Denmark erected their red wall and hoped for the best, Southgate sent for another wrecking ball – or rather a locksmith in Phil Foden.

It sent out the perfect message. This was a game to be won.

Yet it was Raheem Sterling – England’s player of the tournament and cheif tormentor who provided his latest decisive moment.

Embarking on another jinking, jerking, spinning run, he tempted Joakim Maehle into a challenge that sent him tumbling to the deck in the penalty area and prompted referee Danny Makkelie to point to the spot.

Not that the drama was over, with Harry Kane’s initial spot kick saved by Schmeichel.


With the ball spinning back into the danger zone, it was the England captain who was the quickest to react and turn home the rebound to send Wembley into raptures.

The 60,000 inside the national stadium will never forget this night, no matter what Sunday’s final against Italy brings.


This was a coming out party like no other – and the fans who sang “It’s Coming Home,” “Sweet Caroline” and so many more anthems deserve credit for believing in this new England, even when their faith was tested.


For this was not a victory without worrying references to the failures of the past.


Denmark asserted far too much control for Southgate’s liking for the opening half an hour.


Their energy and pressing forced England into errors or desperate clearances.
Kalvin Phillips and Jordan Pickford were both guilty of gifting chances before the Danes eventually took the lead through a stunning 25-yard free kick from Damsgaard after 30 minutes.


 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Again it was slack play from England, conceding two set pieces in quick succession – but the thunderous effort was unstoppable.


What was most concerning was the familiar failings that were coming back to haunt England. An inability to get on the ball, loose passing and a total lack of control.


They needed a response and it came. Having failed to make much of an imprint on the Danish defence, suddenly England were finding space in behind.


First Sterling forced a wonder save from Schmeichel from point blank range after Kane’s cross.


And before Wembley could start to fear it was going to be “one of those days” the equaliser came.


Bukayo Saka darted down the right hand channel, fired a low ball into the six-yard box where Sterling was charging to meet it.


Before he could turn the ball home, the sliding Simon Kjaer diverted it over the line.


It set up a captivating second half that might not have had the quality of the previous night’s semi-final between Italy and Spain, but had all the tension and drama.


At last England were playing the game more in Denmark’s half, winning two early free kicks in dangerous areas, with the imperious Harry Maguire forcing a full-stretch save from Schmeichel with one header.


Southgate sent for Grealish in a bid to open Denmark up in the final 20 minutes, which led a period of sustained pressure that could not provide a winner.


Still the theme had been set. Denmark were holding on – England were powering on and nothing was going to stand in their way of a place in Sunday’s final.

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