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The final of EURO 2020 is set (Sunday, 3 pm ET), with England set to face Italy after beating Denmark 2-1 in extra-time, in what was an enthralling and tense back-and-forth battle in semifinal no. 2 at Wembley Stadium on Wednesday.
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Mikkel Damsgaard opened the scoring for Denmark, but England battled back for an equalizer in short order before taking to the front foot for the remainder of the game. Denmark refused to go quietly into the night as the darlings of EURO 2020, but a questionable (at best) penalty kick in extra-time proved the difference with Harry Kane putting away the rebound after Kasper Schmeichel, who was nothing short of sensational, denied him at the first time of asking.
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Three things we learned: England – Denmark
1. England respond brilliantly to conceding, trailing: As they progressed deeper and deeper into EURO 2020 and the quality of competition got better and better, the odds of England conceding their first goal of the tournament increased. It wasn’t so much a question of if, but of when. Would the concede from 2-0 ahead and still feel rather secure with only a few minutes remaining, or would they concede the first goal in a game and have to play from behind? Against Denmark, it was the latter — for all of nine minutes. For as much as England managed to play their first five games on their terms, whether or not they could successfully chase the game from an unfamiliar position of desperation was a fair question — and one they took little time to answer.
2. Kane pulls the strings again: After watching Kane dominate the Premier League (to the tune of 23 goals and 14 assists) while operating as a de facto no. 10 all season, it was borderline criminal the way the England captain was deployed and marked out of the group games as a simple last-shoulder no. 9. The best player on a team absolutely must touch the ball more than 30 times over 90 minutes (as he averaged through three games). Finally, in the knockout rounds, England found a way to get Kane on the ball between the midfield and defensive lines, and moments of utter brilliance — like the below — followed.
3. Two best teams in the final: Rarely, if ever, does it work out that the two “best” teams — but whatever metric you want to judge — meet in the final, but Italy were the darlings of EURO 2020 from their opening game and England eventually joined them after beating Germany in the round of 16 with a relatively straightforward path to the final ahead of them. In Italy, we have arguably the best attacking side at EURO 2020; in England, we have inarguably the best defensive side at EURO 2020. The perfect final? Perhaps.
Man of the match: Kasper Schmeichel – Denmark needed a handful of heroic saves to take the game to extra-time, and even then Schmeichel saved Kane’s penalty kick to (briefly) save the day.
England – Denmark recap
After a cagey opening 10 minutes, the game’s first half-chance came in the 13th minute. Raheem Sterling made a darting run toward the top of the penalty area from the left wing to open up a half-yard of space, but he scuffed the shot and it was tame as could be for Kasper Schmeichel to scoop up in the end.
The chances remained few and far between in the opening half-hour, but the game sprang to life when Damsgaard struck a truly world-class free kick right on 30 minutes (WATCH HERE – VIDEO). The 21-year-old Sampdoria star couldn’t have hit it much sweeter or place it much better.
Denmark’s advantage was short-lived, though, with England quickly responding to the adversity. Kane slotted a perfect through ball between three defenders to play Bukayo Saka in behind. Saka crossed for Sterling at the far post, but Simon Kjaer was first to the ball, only to bundle it over the line into his own net.
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Schmeichel was forced to make a fantastic save at full-stretch to prevent another Harry Maguire headed goal in the 55th minute. Mason Mount delivered the ball just outside the six-yard box where Maguire met it and sent it toward Schmeichel’s right-hand post, but the big Dane pushed it around the post with his fingertips.
The pace of play slowed considerably as the second half wore on, to the point that extra-time felt inevitable from the 70-minute mark.
Barely three minutes into extra-time, Kane caused Schmeichel a brief moment of panic as he unleashed a powerful, low strike from the edge of the penalty area, but the Leicester City backstop was quick to his right and Joachim Andersen arrived just in time to clear the rebound away.
The decisive moment came in the 103rd minute, when Sterling slalomed past a pair of defenders and went down under minimal contact along the end line. Kane stepped to the spot and hit it straight to Schmeichel as he dove to his left, but Kane was instinctive as he followed the rebound and slotted out of Schmeichel’s desperate dive.