Talking Tactics: Why England deserved to reach first Euro final

class=”styled__BannerImage-sc-1wadlxz-1 iLJqYu styles_articleMainImage__Lj_Qv”>England captain and match-winner Harry Kane leads the celebrations at Wembley

England captain and match-winner Harry Kane leads the celebrations at Wembley

Twenty-five years after missing the decisive penalty against Germany in the semi-finals of Euro 1996, Gareth Southgate has led England to their first European Championship final.

The Three Lions will face Italy at Wembley on Sunday after overcoming Denmark 2-1 in extra time with goals from Harry Kane and an own-goal by Simon Kjaer.

After half an hour, Denmark took the lead from a set piece, the first goal England had conceded all tournament.

Mikkel Damsgaard let fly from 25 yards, beating Jordan Pickford all ends up with a thumping free-kick – the first of the tournament.

But England were behind for just nine minutes.

Released by Kane, Bukayo Saka scampered down the right before cutting the ball back for Raheem Sterling, only for Kjaer to get there first and put through his own net.

England piled on the pressure as the 90 minutes wore to a close but extra time was required.

Just before half time in extra time, England took the lead for the first time when Sterling was felled in the box.

The stats tell the story of a game England bossed without finding the breakthrough until late
The stats tell the story of a game England bossed without finding the breakthrough until late

Kane took the penalty but Kasper Schmeichel, who had been in inspired form throughout, saved the Tottenham striker’s kick.

However, Kane duly converted the rebound to send England through to just their second major final.

Football is now just 90 minutes away from coming home. Here are five tactical takeaways from Wembley.

England suffer stage fright

England’s nerves were evident in the early exchanges.

On several occasions, the Three Lions were guilty of making sloppy mistakes in possession – the sort they had scarcely committed before tonight.

In the space of 60 first-half seconds, Kalvin Phillips and Pickford both gave the ball away cheaply in dangerous areas.

Pickford, in particular, took time to recover.

He clipped the ball straight out of play shortly after – out of character for someone whose distribution is usually his strong point.

Whether or not that error played a part in Denmark’s opener – which ended up central in the goal – is anyone’s guess.

Saka stars again

Bukayo Saka assisted England's equaliser and was one of the Three Lions' best players
Bukayo Saka assisted England's equaliser and was one of the Three Lions' best players

Whatever the weight of public or press opinion, England boss Southgate has got nearly every big call right at Euro 2020 – and so it proved again.

After impressing on his first tournament start against Ukraine, Jadon Sancho was benched for the Three Lions’ triumphant homecoming.

In his place, Saka was restored to the starting XI after shining against the Czech Republic and Germany.

And the Arsenal winger vindicated Southgate’s faith by setting up the own-goal equaliser.

More than that, the teenager pinned back Denmark’s menacing left wing-back Joakim Maehle, limiting the Atalanta defender’s influence on proceedings.

Trust the process

This game felt closer and more fraught than it really ought to have been – at least going on the numbers.

England completed more passes than Denmark attempted, had more than three times as many efforts on goal and on target and were, at times, camped in the visitors’ third.

But Kasper Hjulmand’s side were defiant in the face of an onslaught.

The Three Lions piled on the pressure late on, forcing the Danes’ defensive line ever deeper.

England teams of yesteryear would have crumbled in the face of such resilience. But not Southgate’s side.

They stuck to the plan and were eventually rewarded – albeit the penalty was soft.

England left-back Luke Shaw again got forward with regularity to support Raheem Sterling
England left-back Luke Shaw again got forward with regularity to support Raheem Sterling

Once more, there was a heavy emphasis on playing down England’s left-hand side (above) with Luke Shaw pushing forward in support of Sterling, as has been a feature of this tournament.

The Manchester United man finished with more passes into the final third (30) than anyone else and more crosses (8) too.

Doing dad proud

It’s been a good tournament for famous sons.

Federico Chiesa, son of Enrico, played a big part in Italy reaching the final and Schmeichel Jnr put in a stellar performance at Wembley.

The Leicester stopper is fourth at the European Championships for saves (39) and he was kept busy again tonight.

England laid siege on Kasper Schmeichel's goal but he stood firm
England laid siege on Kasper Schmeichel's goal but he stood firm

Time and time again, the 34-year-old thwarted England and it looked for a split-second as if he had done it again in parrying Kane’s penalty.

His best save, though, came much earlier in the evening when he denied Harry Maguire a trademark header across the face of goal which had looked bound for the far corner.

Given England’s superiority over 120 minutes, it’s tempting to presume the extra half an hour would not have been required without the son of Denmark and Manchester United great Peter.

England pass acid test

A record five clean sheets in succession meant England had yet to concede at Euro 2020 before tonight.

The big question hanging over Southgate’s men was how they would react to going behind.

Damsgaard’s spectacular free-kick left the Everton No1 grasping at thin air and England facing a new challenge.

But the reaction was just what Southgate would have hoped for. Within nine minutes England were level.

Kane released Saka with a pin-point pass and the Arsenal winger squared for Sterling before Kjaer intervened.

If this was the last hurdle for the Three Lions at this tournament, they should head into Sunday’s final with Italy with nothing to fear.

Football isn’t coming home quite yet but, like this England team has for Wembley, a return ticket is booked.

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