Mario Balotelli beats Glen Johnson to the ball as Italy beat England at Euro 2012Олег Дубина/Wikimedia Commons

Three years ago, I watched Kieran Trippier’s free kick sail into the top corner on a small television pinned to the wall of a small pub in West London. The man behind me kindly donated me his pint, albeit by chucking it all over me. The room was electric, two hundred or so English fans caught in a moment of pure elation. Two hours later of course, the atmosphere was very different.

Rarely in football is there such emotional turmoil as being an England fan during a major international tournament. I remember crying at a friend’s house as England crashed out in humiliating fashion to Germany at World Cup 2010, and crying again as we lost to the Italians on penalties at Euro 2012. Disappointments in 2014, 2016 and 2018 weren’t accompanied by tears, the acceptance of the inevitability of England’s failure far easier after a childhood of dismay.

It is often the case that England fans enter a major tournament with an overriding sense of optimism, wilfully ignoring previous failure in favour of pronouncing that it is ‘our year’. This year feels different. Three fairly stale group-stage performances, including an abject display against Scotland have been followed by a momentous 2-0 victory against Germany, and the dismissal of a lacklustre Ukraine side by four goals to nil.

“Rarely in football is there such emotional turmoil as being an England fan during a major international tournament”

The next challenge is Denmark, a side stricken by tragedy in their first game, who qualified from Group D with only three points. Since then, they’ve brushed aside Wales 4-0, and beaten the Czech Republic 2-1, an impressive showing by the world’s 10th ranked side. Despite Christian Eriksen’s absence, Denmark will not be a walkover. Players like Mikkel Damsgaard and Kasper Dolberg have been some of the standout players at the tournament, with the former being linked with a move from Sampdoria to Tottenham after the end of the tournament.

Regular watchers of Premier League football will be well-versed in the strengths of Spurs midfielder Pierre-Emil Hojberg, who plays in a more creative role for the Danes than he does in North London. Similarly, Andreas Christiansen of Chelsea is a solid centre-half, who will have a good understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of England’s front three from his time in England.

If England do beat Denmark, breaking their 55-year absence from a major final, Italy lie in wait after beating Spain 4-2 on penalties (FT ET 1-1) at Wembley last night (06/07). While not wholly convincing, Spain being the better team for most of normal time, the victory displayed a great deal of resilience. The timeless pairing of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci stood resolute in the face of an exciting Spanish attack, and keeper Gianluigi Donnaruma made a few crucial saves, including in the penalty shoot-out.

Italy will be a tougher final opponent than Spain. The blend of experienced players such as Chiellini and Bonucci with new, exciting talents such as Nicolo Barella and Manuel Locatelli has ensured six wins out of six for Italy at Euro 2020. Remarkably, Italy haven’t lost a game in 33 matches under the stewardship of Roberto Mancini, making them formidable opposition going into the final.

Tactically, Gareth Southgate has been excellent at this tournament, particularly in the knockout stages. Five at the back against Germany served to nullify the attacking threat presented by Kai Havertz, Timo Werner and Thomas Muller. For the game against Ukraine, he reverted to a traditional back four, allowing for more expansive attacking play with Mason Mount returning from Covid-enforced isolation.

“I’ll be singing Skinner and Baddiel on Wednesday, but with an air of trepidation”

In every game so far, Southgate has started Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips as holding midfielders, who have earned praise for steadfast defensive performances coupled with the ability to progress up the pitch and distribute the ball to forwards. Phillips in particular has proved doubters wrong, the man dubbed as the ‘Yorkshire Pirlo’ by Leeds supporters most notable for an industrious performance against Croatia, assisting Sterling’s goal and maintaining 94% pass accuracy.

England are in the semi-finals of a European Championship, having not conceded a single goal in five games, scoring eight in the process. It is impossible though, however favourable the bookies’ odds are, to view a championship win as inevitable. World Cup 1990 and Euro 96 are examples of England falling short at the penultimate hurdle, and the strength of the Danes must not be underestimated. The optimism I feel while watching such a young, talented England side is dampened by the perennial failure in my lifetime, and an impending sense of dread still fills my body whenever the Three Lions take to the field.


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For the Denmark game, England must stick to the structure that beat Ukraine so convincingly, allowing the creative players freedom while fending off the threat posed by the likes of Damsgaard. If we do progress, the final against Italy may require the five-man defence utilised in the Germany game, in order to deal with the Azzurri’s front three. Regardless, despite the clamour around Jack Grealish and Jadon Sancho’s limited game-time, Southgate is wary of too many personnel changes this late in the tournament, which is an understandable approach.

I’ll be singing Skinner and Baddiel on Wednesday, but with an air of trepidation. Kasper Schmeichel certainly isn't having any of it. The spectre of previous failure still hangs over England as a footballing nation, and before even reaching the final the Danes present a stern test to Southgate’s men. The mental and physical strength required to carry England to the title cannot be underestimated, and as much as I hope we lift the trophy after beating Italy on the 11th of July, there is a long way to go before it finally comes home.