LONDON: England will play in their first major tournament final for 55 years after coming from behind to beat Denmark 2-1 after extra time in front of a delirious 65,000 crowd at Wembley in Wednesday’s Euro 2020 semi-final.
Mikkel Damsgaard’s stunning free-kick after 30 minutes threatened another semi-final disappointment for Gareth Southgate’s side, three years on from losing in the last four of the World Cup.
But Simon Kjaer’s own goal levelled before half-time and a controversial penalty proved decisive when Harry Kane scored on the rebound after his initial effort was saved by Kasper Schmeichel.
England will attempt to win the European Championship for the first time when they face Italy back at Wembley in Sunday’s final.
“For once it fell our way,” said Kane. “We responded really well after falling 1-0 down but we controlled the game.
“First time in our history to get through to the European final and at Wembley, it is one of the proudest moments of my life for sure.”
Defeat ends Denmark’s fairytale run to the semi-finals, the furthest they have been at a tournament since winning Euro 92.
The Danes’ tournament began in nearly-tragic circumstances when star midfielder Christian Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest in their opening game against Finland.
Kasper Hjulmand’s men have since ridden an emotional wave and played plenty of slick football in sticking four goals past Russia and Wales on their way to the semi-finals.
However, England’s huge advantage in having six of their seven matches on home soil has paid off as they were the physically fresher side in the latter stages.
And Hjulmand said his side’s exit was even more “bitter” because of the manner of the winning goal.
“One thing is to lose a game, but losing this way is a disappointment because these guys have fought a lot,” said Hjulmand.
“We have to digest this before we can describe these feelings. It’s a bitter way to leave the tournament.”
Roared on by the deafening noise created by the biggest crowd for an England game in nearly two years, the hosts came flying out of the traps.
Kane’s teasing cross just evaded Raheem Sterling as he burst in towards the far post.
Denmark settled after a shaky start and started to pose a threat themselves as Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg shot straight at Jordan Pickford before Martin Braithwaite and Damsgaard saw efforts fly off target.
England were on a national record run of seven consecutive clean sheets, but were finally breached in spectacular fashion by Damsgaard’s free-kick that flew into the top corner.
Any questions over how Southgate’s men would react to falling behind for the first time in the tournament were emphatically answered as England rapidly hit back.
Sterling should have equalised when he fired straight into Schmeichel’s midriff with just the ‘keeper to beat.
Moments later, the hosts were level when Kane freed Bukayo Saka down the right and Kjaer turned into his own net under pressure from Sterling.
Denmark’s exertions in being forced into a 9,000-kilometre (5,592 mile) round trip for their quarter-final win over the Czech Republic in Baku showed in the second half as they desperately tried to keep England at bay.
Schmeichel kept his side in the game, flying low to his right to parry Harry Maguire’s header in the second half and from Kane early in extra time.
England’s pressure finally paid off in controversial circumstances when Sterling was awarded a soft penalty as he fell under a challenge by Joakim Maehle in the 104th minute.
Schmeichel even denied Kane from the spot but the ball fell kindly for the England captain to sweep home his fourth goal of the tournament.
Southgate was the fall guy when England last made it to a Euro semi-final 25 years ago as he missed the decisive penalty in a shoot-out defeat to Germany.
But he has the ultimate shot at redemption come Sunday as England have the chance to finally bring a major trophy home after so many years of hurt.
“When you’ve waited as long as we have to get through a semi-final, the players — considering the limited international experience some of them have — have done an incredible job,” said Southgate.
“The most pleasing thing is we’ve given the fans and nation a fantastic night and the journey carries on for another four days.
“We’ve got to enjoy the fact we’re in the final but there’s one more massive hurdle to conquer.”