Last night’s first semi-final was a thriller, and in the end the Italians kept their heads a little cooler in the penalty shoot-out than their Southern European rival, Spain. What can we expect tonight when England plays Denmark at Wembley?
England is the only team in the competition that has not conceded a goal in any of their matches. And that’s no coincidence. Coach Southgate has built a defensive and careful, data driven strategy. He is criticised for benching some of his more creative players. While the other three semi-finalists are in the top three of teams with the most attempts on goal, England is number 19 with only 39 attempts after five matches. Opponent Denmark has had 90 in comparison. But… the winning coach is always right. Gareth Southgate has come a long way, as he was only appointed as a caretaker in 2016. After getting the permanent job, he went on to lead England to two consecutive semi-finals in big tournaments—and this one is not over yet.
Playing at home for 60,000 fans at Wembley will give the team a major boost and advantage over the Danes, if of course they can handle the mounting pressure from the press and public. Harry Kane scored two goals against Ukraine, which made the Sunday People publish the headline “We Kane. We saw. We conquered”. He seemed to have his confidence back just in time for the last two (!) matches. He won the Golden Boot in 2018 and has now scored three goals; two behind Ronaldo and Schick, who are already home, of course. Fellow striker Sterling has also scored three, together they have taken care of 75% of England’s production this tournament.
The story of the Danes in this tournament is well known. The harrowing incident in their opening match with star player Christian Eriksen has brought the team even more together and the loss of his skills is compensated with sheer mentality and determination. Denmark is looking at repeating their surprise win at the 1992 Euros. After not having qualified, they were allowed a last-minute entry to replace Yugoslavia. Interestingly, the keeper then was Peter Schmeichel, the father of Denmark’s current keeper and Leicester goalie Kasper.
Danish coach Hjulmand was also a surprise appointment, but he too is performing well. Like Southgate, he is well liked and has a more holistic view on football; he is seen as a philosopher and an idealist. He is tactically strong and always seems to make the right choices in the match. Nonetheless, they are the underdog tonight. They would need some individual magic from, for instance, Nice-forward Kasper Dolberg, who continued his scoring streak against the Czechs in the quarter-finals. He too has scored three goals so far.
Both teams might not have expected to come this far, but both have grown in the competition (and had a bit of luck with the draw). Both coaches will have their teams tactically well-prepared. The English have more quality in the squad and the home advantage, although that hasn’t stopped the Vikings before. The Danes will arrive full of confidence at Wembley knowing that they can win, but that England must win.