Playing a semi-final is a terrifying thought. Many players are besieged by the fear of failure. Apart from Denmark, England’s biggest opponents were history and anxiety as they had suffered a meltdown in their last three semi-finals: World Cup 1990, Euro 96 when they paid the “penalty”, and recently at the World Cup 18, when they faltered against Croatia after taking the lead.
This is a new avatar with a sheen of battle-hardedness, nerves of steel, and more organized as if computer-controlled.
Gareth Southgate, man in charge of this team, shaped by his own misfortune in the 96 euros, has steered this ship with soothing calmness, without any fuss or histrionics. Performance has not been an artist’s delight but certainly very efficient and effective.
They hadn’t conceded a goal upto this point but Denmark produced 15 minutes of brilliance in the first half, that seemed to shake and panic a stubborn England defense.
Pickford’s distribution, who had hardly put a foot wrong up to this point, went haywire. Defenders, under intense Danish pressure, reverted to their ancestral default mode of punting long, allowing gaps in midfield. Denmark took full advantage of this commotion at the back, when their prodigious talent Damsgaard drew the first blood with a sublime free-kick.
Traditional Engand teams would have stumbled after conceding a lead but not Southgate’s bravehearts. They forced an equalizer through Kjaer own goal and while they were resisted by Denmark’s watertight defense and an inspired keeper in normal time, eventually they broke the deadlock through their talismanic skipper from a penalty rebound.
That proved to be the final nail in Denmark’s coffin as they just couldn’t recover from the knock-out punch.
This certainly wasn’t as straightforward as their walk-in-the-park 4-0 win against Ukraine and a sterner test awaits against a resurgent Italy on Sunday, probably England’s biggest match in modern history. Victory against Germany was sweet having buried the ghosts of previous losses through some “sterling” performance, high-flying Italy would be a different kettle of fish.
1966, an era of black and white television was a watershed moment in England’s football. Is the 55 years of agonizing pain about to end or will the ageless wonders, Bonucci and Chiellini, have the final laugh?Sunday will have the answers as the toughest of tests draws a curtain to what has been a fabulous tournament.
Sport has a unifying effect and a worthy cause can certainly galvanize a team. In adversity after losing their star player through cardiac arrest, Denmark brought with them color, competitiveness, tenacity, and above all compassion and now depart with their pride in tact, reputations enhanced and Christian Eriksen discharged from hospital healthy and sound. Miracle of 92 wasn’t repeated but this team has kept the red-and-white Danish flag flying high.