“England will never, ever have a better opportunity to win the Euros,” said former England forward Alan Shearer after his country’s thumping 4-0 win over Ukraine in the quarter-final of Euro 2020. He is right. Denmark, England’s semi-final opponents on Wednesday, should be wary.
Shearer was part of the English side that could have won the Euros 25 years ago. Had Gareth Southgate, England’s current manager, not missed a penalty in the shootout against Germany in the semifinal of Euro 1996, the Three Lions might have gone all the way at home. In the following years of underachievement, England maintained a respectful distance from the semi-finals.
The time has come for England to end their 55-year trophy drought in major tournaments. What more proof one needs than England’s win over Germany in the round of 16? It was their first knock-out victory against Germany since the 1966 World Cup final.
Calling Southgate a tactical genius would be an exaggeration but he has clearly delivered the goods. If not anything else, he has galvanised the team. There is an unmistakable swagger about Harry Kane & co. that was not evident even when Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard played together.
When Southgate steered England to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup, critics were quick to point out an easy passage. The same allegation cannot be hurled at him now. Unlike the past, England are not constricted by pressure. Backing their team has never been more fruitful for the English fans.
Not conceding a goal in five matches is a record any team would be proud of. The made-in- Manchester back line is full of experience and efficiency. In central midfield, Southgate prefers Mason Mount, although Jordan Henderson and Jack Grealish have vocal support in various quarters. On the right, he has to choose between Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho.
Captain Kane is back among goals after a sterile show in the league and Raheem Sterling’s performance has been top-notch from start. England’s aerial prowess resulted in three goals against Ukraine but Denmark’s tall defenders would be sturdier and smarter.
Denmark are a balanced side. A health scare to their talismanic midfielder Christian Eriksen has invigorated them. In Kasper Dolberg and Mikkel Damsgaard, they have a deadly pair up front. As a creator in the middle, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is a standout in the whole tournament. Joachim Maehle is another star performer for Denmark as a left wing-back.
The 1992 Euro champions are capable of beating England but an upset looks unlikely at Wembley, the home of their charged-up opponents.
England: Raheem Sterling. He has to score goals and create chances for others. In addition, he has to embolden his side with a few bold dribbles. Sterling has done all that with aplomb and he is hungry for more.
Denmark: Kasper Dolberg. The former Ajax player has done the Dutch giants’ reputation no harm with three goals in two matches. He is confidence personified in front of goal.
Formation: England: 4-2-3-1. Denmark: 3-4-3
(The writer has reported the Fifa World Cup from South Africa, Brazil and Russia)