For the second time in three years, England have made it to a major tournament semi-final, this time facing off against Denmark at Wembley for a place in the Euro 2020 final.
This is arguably the greatest chance, perhaps even since 1966, for England to triumph on the world stage, with the backing of 60,000 fans on their home turf (perhaps slightly unfairly) spurring them on in a pan-European tournament for which they are undoubtedly favourites.
The Three Lions enter the game of the back of a 4-0 victory over Ukraine in the quarter-final, a simple win over poor opposition, although the team put in a performance to inspire many fans that it is truly ‘coming home’.
Gareth Southgate reverted back to a 4-2-3-1 system, after playing three at the back to counteract Germany’s attacking threat, and, for the first time in the tournament, this led to England carrying a genuine attacking threat.
Jadon Sancho added a different dimension to England’s attack and, working in tandem with Raheem Sterling, Mason Mount and Harry Kane, had a hand in creating goals for Kane (tw0), Harry Maguire and substitute Jordan Henderson.
Southgate’s formations and personnel selections have varied throughout the tournament, so it is hard to guess at the team he will go with for this clash with Denmark, but you must think that he will continue with the formation as against Ukraine, where their usual defensive solidity was combined with this threat in attack.
Denmark cannot be underestimated
Speaking ahead of the semi-final, Southgate mentioned the team’s increased ambitions for this tournament:
“I guess the interesting part for us is we won’t feel totally satisfied if it’s just a semi-final for us whereas maybe three years ago, although there was massive disappointment, there was a feeling we’d come a long way.
“Now we’ve replicated what we did there, but that won’t be enough to fulfil the group. That’s a positive sign. The other thing that is so positive, these young players, they’re getting more experiences that are positive and enjoyable.”
Part of the reason for these increased expectations is the nature of the opposition: although an impressive team, Denmark cannot be considered to be among the upper echelons of international football, contributing to what has been a relatively easy run for England up to this point.
However, Denmark cannot be underestimated. Not only do they have the inspiration of fighting in the name of Christian Eriksen, their teammate who was so horrifically struck down with a cardiac arrest against Finland, but they also have good players and a manager in Kasper Hjulmand who has set his team up in an astute way to get the best out of their abundant strengths.
In the group stage against Belgium, although they eventually lost the game, they actually performed better than their opponents on xG, ‘winning’ the game by 2.35-0.98, a statistic that highlights Denmark’s attacking prowess.
Their front three of the creative prodigy Mikkel Damsgard, clinical Kasper Dolberg and pacey Martin Braithwaite can cause problems against any team, while Youssef Poulsen is also a handy option to have off the bench. The threat caused by breakout star Joachim Maehle on the left-flank should also not be understated, as he has the ability to cause Kyle Walker many problems, should Walker suffer from his usual lapses in concentration.
They have scored the joint second-most goals in the tournament, alongside Italy with 11, and will not be afraid to attack England, even if they are favourites, as evidenced in their clash against the Belgians.
In defence as well, the team is by no means weak, with a strong centre-back trio of Chelsea’s Andreas Christensen, Southampton’s Jannik Verstergaard and inspirational captain Simon Kjaer, backed up by Kasper Schmeichel in goal. In the second half against the Czech Republic this defence stood strong, withstanding the Czech onslaught from the wide areas aerially and through the middle, with Tottenham midfielder Pierre-Emile Højbjerg a key part of Hjulmand’s defensive system.
In short, Denmark are by no means a team that England will walk over, and I would say that at some point they will break England’s superb backline, which is yet to concede a goal so far this tournament.
However, with no Danish fans allowed to travel to the UK, and with 60,000 purely English fans backing the team, England will be overwhelming favourites to continue their march to the final.