Gary Neville fears England will become “nearly men” if they lose a second successive semi-final as he urged Gareth Southgate’s side to seize their opportunity in their Euro 2020 showdown against Denmark.
There has been more expectation on England in the European Championship this summer than when they went on a surprise run to the last four of the 2018 World Cup, and they have thus far risen to the challenge.
England are yet to concede a goal in the tournament and, having dispatched Germany in the last-16 and Ukraine in the quarter-finals, hopes are high heading into Wednesday evening’s clash against the Danes at Wembley.
While Neville says he has “genuine confidence in this manager and players”, the former England and Manchester United defender insisted nothing less than their best display will be enough to carry them into Sunday’s showpiece.
Just hours before kick-off, Neville wrote on Instagram: “History beckons for this team. To reach back-to-back Semi-Finals is incredible, but it’s not enough. You become nearly men!
“I do have genuine confidence in this manager and players that this time a semi-final isn’t the end! To win any semi-final takes a great performance. This is a really good Denmark team and anything less than our best and/or luck will not be enough.
“The only danger is that the lads don’t see the danger. When you’re euphoric and on a wave in sport or life you can have that feeling it’s never going to end and something becomes your right. It doesn’t work like that.
“Tonight is a night to be cold, don’t let emotion take over, stick to the manager’s plan and focus. Go for it lads! Focus and grab this chance!”
Neville was part of the England coaching staff in their last appearance at the European Championship when they were defeated by Iceland, working under Roy Hodgson, who believes the current crop have been “absolutely perfect”.
“I’m very confident indeed because I think the England team is playing so exceptionally well from the start of the tournament really,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
“In fact, they have been faultless. I can’t think of anything to criticise, although I’m sure there are people who do find something. But they must be hard pushed to find something. It’s been absolutely perfect.”
Hodgson said the Wembley crowd will “play a major part” but is dreading the prospect of a penalty shoot-out.
“My main hope tonight is that the game won’t go to penalties,” he added. “You can argue that the penalty shoot-out is better than the flip of a coin, but it is a very cruel way to lose matches.”
Emma Hayes, the manager of Chelsea Women, believes being at Wembley is one of a number of factors that will count in England’s favour, but she warned against writing off Denmark, who have reached this stage despite talisman Christian Eriksen suffering a cardiac arrest in their opening match.
“I think it’s an extraordinary opportunity for England,” Hayes told ITV, which is screening England v Denmark live from 6.30pm.
“The fact that there’s a huge home advantage, there’s momentum, there’s a feelgood factor, there’s a freshness in the group, you can see the hunger and determination in the players and the belief they’ve got in each other.
“That being said, Denmark are a team that are united by a very, very extreme experience, with Christian having a cardiac arrest, so you can’t underestimate that and, while the omens are not great for Denmark, the togetherness they have in their group means they’re going to be an extremely difficult opponent to beat.”
Former Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp said Denmark should not be underestimated, but was also tipping England to come out on top.
“It’s going to be a very tough game tonight,” Redknapp told GMB. “They’re a very good team with some outstanding players who play in our Premier League every week.
“Kasper (Schmeichel) is an incredible goalkeeper and they’ve got defenders who play in the Premier League and a midfielder (Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg) who plays for Tottenham and some real quality in their team.
“But I do think England have been in fantastic form and on the back of Saturday’s result against Ukraine we should be feeling very confident.
“Tonight should be a much tougher game but I think we’ve got enough to just about win the game.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson also backed the Three Lions to see it through, posting on Instagram: “Today is the day. Come on England!”
However, ex-Denmark goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel disagreed with his fellow pundits and said Kasper Hjulmand’s side “knows how to win”.
“I’m very confident about the Danish team,” Peter Schmeichel told GMB. “You might think this run of form has come from the incident with Christian Eriksen, it hasn’t, it’s a team that’s played 44 games and lost three so it’s a team that knows how to win and how to play.
“It’s a team that’s been in the making for four years and we have a new coach who has taken over that incredible building work and added some extra elements to it and made it a lot better.”