England’s Euro 2020 semi-final is so big manager Gareth Southgate admits he started thinking about it even before their last-eight tie against Ukraine was over.
Jordan Henderson’s first international goal just over an hour into Saturday’s quarter-final made it 4-0 to guarantee their progress and give Southgate an extra 30 minutes’ thinking time.
“I’ve got to say I was already thinking about the next challenge before the end of the game,” said the England boss, who is bidding to lead the country to their first European Championship final by beating Denmark on Wednesday.
“That’s the one for us – we’ve never been to a European Championship final. It’s another opportunity to make history.
“We’ve had to suffer a bit to get to where we are: some difficult nights and tough performances but we are now playing with a lot belief and the players can see what’s possible.
“We still have a long way to go and we are not satisfied.”
Jordan the Pick of England’s defensive success
England have yet to concede at the tournament and that is largely due to the performance of goalkeeper Jordan Pickford and the defence in front of him.
However, former goalkeeper David James felt the form of Pickford, who has looked good since the second half of the Premier League season after a shaky first half, was crucial.
“Jordan Pickford in goal hasn’t put a foot wrong with regards to costing us any chances against,” he told Sky Sports.
“He made a big save early on in the game (against Ukraine) and he’s got to be buzzing at the moment.
“But what I do like – and I think this is the key thing, the way Gareth talks about this – this isn’t about individual success, this is about a collective and the defence in front of Jordan, Jordan behind the defence, the whole team just looks so solid.”
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Danes pushing for greater representation
Politicians for various parties in Denmark have joined forces to call for the Danish Government to put pressure on their UK counterparts to allow more fans to go to Wembley on Wednesday.
Coronavirus restrictions mean fans from Denmark will not be able to travel for the country’s first semi-final since they won the tournament in 1992 as last-minute replacements.
The Danish Football Association have reduced their allocation to 5,000 for the 60,000-ticket event as only local supporters will be able to attend.
Their head of commercial activities Ronnie Hansen has sounded the clarion call for all UK-based fans to mobilise.
“Now ALL Danes living in England must enter the fight!” Hansen wrote on Twitter.
“Do you know a Dane in England or Scotland? They must carry the torch on from the world’s best supporters.
“There are many tickets for Danes in the UK and they have to go AMOK!!”
But that is not enough for some in Denmark.
“Now the government simply has to pull itself together. It is historic that Denmark has reached the semi-finals of the European Championship,” the Liberal Party’s culture spokesman Jan E Jorgensen told Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet.
Danish People’s Party’s group chairman Peter Skaarup added: “I think the government should put maximum pressure on Britain.
“It can not fit that we can not have fans for one of the biggest sporting events for Denmark in recent times.”
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Azzurri rally behind Spinazzola
Before Wednesday’s showdown, Wembley will also host the heavyweight semi-final between Italy, the form team of the tournament, and Spain.
It will be interesting to see how Italy perform without left-back Leonardo Spinazzola, who has been a revelation for the Azzurri, after he ruptured an Achilles tendon in their quarter-final victory.
“I’m really sorry for ‘Spina’, he was having a great Euros and was a very important player for us,” said Federico Chiesa.
“I’m very sorry because in the team we’re all like brothers. And losing a brother is not nice, in a metaphorical sense.
“I wish him a good recovery. He’s a great player and a champion, we’ll miss him.
“He has to focus on his recovery and we’ll try to bring something big, to reach the final to give him joy.”
The race for the Golden Boot may remain a sideshow to the main event with England tantalisingly close to winning a tournament on home soil but UEFA’s statisticians appear to have forgotten one key player.
Raheem Sterling and Denmark’s Kasper Dolberg have been highlighted as the main threats to Cristiano Ronaldo and Patrick Schick’s five goals but Harry Kane, who also took his tally to three after a double against Ukraine, is missing off the list despite being the most likely of all of them to challenge the leading scorers.
Italy v Spain (semi-final, July 6, Wembley, 2000 BST)
England v Denmark (semi-final, July 7, Wembley, 2000 BST)