English soccer fans celebrated wildly and breathed a collective sigh of relief after the national team booked its spot in the European Championships final on Thursday morning AEST.
England has not contested a major final since they won the 1966 World Cup and after 55 long years, fans are daring to dream that football might finally be “coming home”.
The country watched nervously as captain Harry Kane needed two cracks at the extra-time penalty which ultimately saw England beat Denmark 2-1 at Wembley.
Kane’s penalty kick was saved by goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel but the forward scored from the rebound in the 104th minute.
The regulation 90 minutes finished 1-1 and Denmark played the second half of extra time with 10 men because substitute Mathias Jensen came off injured and the team couldn’t make any more changes.
England will face Italy in the final at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.
Denmark’s fairytale run since the collapse of Christen Eriksen with cardiac arrest in their opening game ended, despite Mikkel Damsgaard’s brilliant free kick giving them a 30th minute lead.
But Simon Kjaer’s own goal levelled matters before the break and with England dominant, the winner was a matter of time in coming even if Denmark survived the initial 90 minutes.
The vast majority of the 65,000 crowd inside Wembley – the biggest attendance at a UK sporting event since the coronavirus pandemic began – could not hide their delight at seeing England continue their progress which was fully merited despite the disputed nature of the winning goal.
The influential Sterling cut in from the right and tumbled but was well on the way to the ground even before he was grazed by Maehle.
Contact, however slight, was enough to convince the review the decision was not clearly mistaken and Kane took full advantage for his fourth goal of the tournament.
Denmark, playing on a wave of emotion since Eriksen’s collapse, started slowly but gradually turned matters. Young talent Damsgaard had already curled wide before finding the net with a beautiful free-kick over the wall.
It was England’s first goal conceded in the tournament and in a total of 691 minutes – though by then keeper Jordan Pickford had narrowly broken England’s personal clean sheet record by six minutes of World Cup winning goalie Gordon Banks, who didn’t concede for 720 minutes in May-July 1966.
Sterling was denied an equaliser by a point-blank Schmeichel save but his presence awaiting Bukayo Saka’s cross forced Kjaer into a 39th minute own goal.
It was the 11th own goal of the tournament with only nine having been recorded combined at every previous edition since 1960.
Denmark’s tiring legs conceded possession and territory to England, who did however struggle to create.
Defender Harry Maguire’s header was superbly clawed out by Schmeichel – whose father Peter was a Denmark hero in their Euro title win of 1992 – and extra-time loomed.
Schmeichel denied captain Kane and substitute Jack Grealish while Sterling fired over from the edge of the box.
Eventually the pressure told though and England’s Wembley exploded with equal measure of joy and relief.
– with AAP