LONDON: England fed off the energy of a passionate Wembley crowd to beat Denmark 2-1 in extra time in the Euro 2020 semi-finals on Wednesday and now stand just 90 minutes away from ending their 55-year trophy drought.
Gareth Southgate´s men will face Italy on Sunday — again on home turf — infused with belief they can win a first major international tournament since the 1966 World Cup.
For Euro 92 champions Denmark, defeat spells the end of a fairytale run to the last four after the trauma of witnessing star man Christian Eriksen collapse in their first match.
England emerged on a cool evening at Wembley after the crowd of almost 65,000 had whipped themselves into a frenzy with rousing renditions of “Sweet Caroline” and “Football´s Coming Home”.
But Denmark ripped up the home script on the half-hour when Mikkel Damsgaard punished Luke Shaw for a foul on Andreas Christensen, smashing a free-kick past the despairing dive of Jordan Pickford.
That was the first goal England had conceded in the entire tournament and thousands of British-based Danes celebrated wildly.
The crowd went flat but England were level within 10 minutes when Denmark captain Simon Kjaer could only bundle the ball into his own net after a searching cross from Bukayo Saka.
Neither side could find a goal in the second period despite intense pressure from the home side as normal time drew to a close.
The volume in the stadium increased in extra time as England put Denmark under intense pressure and they finally got their reward when Raheem Sterling was fouled in the box by Joakim Maehle.
Harry Kane´s penalty was saved by Kasper Schmeichel but he converted the rebound to give England the advantage and they held Denmark at bay to seal the win.
The final whistle sparked scenes of delirium in the stands and on the pitch as the players partied with the crowd.
“When you´ve waited as long as we have to get through a semi-final, the players — considering the limited international experience some of them have — have done an incredible job,” Southgate told ITV.
“The most pleasing thing is we´ve given the fans and nation a fantastic night and the journey carries on for another four days.
“We suffered in Moscow (2018 World Cup semi-final) on a night like this and we´ve managed to put that right.”
The match was attended by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prince William, who is president of the English Football Association.
“Tonight @England played their hearts out,” tweeted Johnson. “What a fantastic performance from Gareth Southgate´s squad. Now to the final. Let´s bring it home.”
Geoff Hurst, who scored a hat-trick when England beat West Germany to win the 1966 World Cup final, tweeted: “Wow! We´re in the final. Brilliant game. Well done England. Fantastic.”
– Slow start –
England have suffered semi-final heartbreak at major tournaments four times since becoming world champions in 1966 and those agonising defeats have been etched in the psyche of English football.
But Southgate has overseen the emergence of a vibrant young team unconcerned by the trials and tribulations of their failed predecessors in the national shirt and they are now through to their first European Championship final.
Denmark were fuelled by a sense of destiny and desire after Eriksen had to be resuscitated on the pitch in their tournament opener against Finland following a cardiac arrest.
They went into their final group game without a point but, with Eriksen on the mend, Kasper Hjulmand´s team embarked on a three-match winning run that took them to a first semi-final in 29 years.
A disappointed Hjulmand said the nature of the winning goal had left a “bitter” taste.
“One thing is to lose a game, but losing this way is a disappointment because these guys have fought a lot,” he said.
“We have to digest this before we can describe these feelings. It´s a bitter way to leave the tournament.”
Italy, who failed even to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, lie in wait for England at Wembley this weekend after beating Spain 4-2 on penalties at the same stadium following a gripping 1-1 draw on Tuesday.
Federico Chiesa gave Italy the lead with half an hour to go only for Spain substitute Alvaro Morata to equalise with 10 minutes left.
Both sides missed their first two kicks of the shoot-out. Gianluigi Donnarumma saved Morata´s effort, with Jorginho converting Italy´s winner.