Harry Kane fired England to just their second major tournament final as Gareth Southgate’s men secured a 2-1 extra-time victory over Denmark to set-up Sunday’s shot at Euro 2020 glory.
After topping their group, beating Germany and swatting aside Ukraine, this semi-final victory gives the Three Lions a chance to follow in the footsteps of the triumphant 1966 World Cup side by lifting silverware at Wembley.
Italy lie in wait after a pulsating semi-final under the arch on Wednesday night, when Simon Kjaer’s own goal cancelled out a superb Mikkel Damsgaard free-kick and Kasper Schmeichel kept the white shirts at bay to take the tie to extra-time.
Dutch referee Danny Makkelie found himself a central character in the drama when he awarded a 104th-minute spot-kick for Joakim Maehle’s challenge on Raheem Sterling which survived a VAR check.
Kane’s attempt was saved, but he converted to rebound to lift the roof off a packed Wembley to exorcise the ghosts of Italia 90 and Euro 96.
England will reconvene at headquarters on Sunday evening when Roberto Mancini’s men will attempt to deny them they prize they have craved for 55 years, and it is unlikely to be any less tense.
Damsgaard became the first man to find a way past England keeper Jordan Pickford at the finals when he curled a 30th-minute free-kick past him. The Everton keeper, aided and abetted by the defenders ahead of him, had gone 480 minutes of tournament football – and an England record 726 minutes in all games – without conceding prior to the Sampdoria frontman’s strike, the first of the finals from a direct set-piece.
Schmeichel did more than anyone to keep Denmark in a game which might otherwise have been beyond them by the time 90 minutes had elapsed. However, his brilliance was left to count for nothing when, having guessed correctly to keep out Kane’s uncharacteristically weak penalty, the ball rebounded straight to the England skipper, who slotted it into the unguarded net.
Sterling has grown in stature on and off the pitch since making a significant impact at the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia, but his contribution on an energy-sapping evening at Wembley was immense. It was Maehle’s challenge on the Manchester City star which led to the decisive goal and deep into extra-time, it was he who was still running the Danish defence ragged in his country’s cause.
“It’s the first time in our history as a nation, getting through to the European final at Wembley, and it’s one of the proudest moments in my life, for sure. But we haven’t won it yet, we’ve got one more to go.”England captain Harry Kane on ITV
Kane’s goal took him to 10 for England in tournament football, a feat matched only by Gary Lineker. Asked about his penalty, Southgate told ITV: “There’s nobody you’ve rather have on it, but you’re up against a great goalkeeper who he’s obviously faced a lot of times – but thankfully that’s now immaterial.”