New Wembley gets its England icons on a night of nail-biting tension - but their true moment of glory may still be to come

·5-min read
 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Gareth Southgate called for his players to create an "iconic" Wembley moment and they delivered one, as Harry Kane's extra-time penalty sealed a 2-1 win over Denmark and booked their place in a first European Championship Final.

Kane scored on the rebound after Kasper Schmeichel saved his initial spot-kick to spark pandemonium inside Wembley after 104 minutes of nail-biting drama and tension.

It was surely the greatest moment the stadium has seen since its rebuild and a goal for the ages for England, who will break new ground in Sunday's Final here against Italy.

 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

And yet Southgate and his players hope the moment was only a stepping stone, a prelude to something bigger. Their true moment of glory may still be to come.

Nonetheless, as 60,000 supporters – excluding the Denmark continent behind the goal – danced away the second half of extra-time in giddy ecstasy, you knew beyond doubt that this was one of the great occasions for English football – whatever lies ahead.

Hours before kick-off, England fans had gathered in their hundreds outside the ground, forming a jubilant pit of bodies on the square just off Wembley Way.

Flying beer cans and red smoke from a flare filled the air as they went through the catalogue of England favourites, from the national anthem to Three Lions.

With kick-off fast approaching, the noise is the stadium was magnificent, deafening.

As the teams emerged, supporters belted out Sweet Caroline, the newly-adopted understudy anthem for Southgate's side at the Finals.

After 18 months largely without supporters, it was particularly special. The atmosphere continued to be raucous, peaking with Kane's goal and the final whistle, when the stadium erupted in a chorus of 'football's coming home'.

After their lap of honour, the whole England camp congregated in front of the stand containing their families and friends and joined the ground in another rendition of Sweet Caroline. There has been nothing like it for England for 55 years.

Denmark depart with their heads held high and with a moment for their own national archives.

They took the lead after 30 minutes through Mikel Damsgaard's stunning free-kick from 30 yard which dipped and served its way over England's wall and past Jordan Pickford.

But England showed their formidable team spirit with an equaliser within nine minutes, Raheem Sterling forcing Simon Kjaer into an own goal.

Sterling, who is in line to be named player of the tournament, continued his decisive form by showing bravery on the ball when England most needed it, charging into the box and winning a generous penalty after going down under a challenge by Joachim Maehle.

Kane did the rest, at the second time of asking, sparking the unforgettable scenes.

Another psychological test passed

One of the last remaining questions about this England side at this tournament is how they would respond to a setback.

Their seamless progress to the semi-final had barely been met with a hitch, and they were still yet to concede or go behind.

Their control was so impressive that Pickford surpassed Gordon Banks's England record of 720 minutes without conceding a goal in the first half an hour but the longer England's superiority continued, the more you wondered if an inevitable setback might be a shock to the system.

Shortly after Pickford's record, Damsgaard struck and it was time for England to show what they were made of.

Initially they were nervy, certainly Pickford, who fired another ball straight out of play.

Southgate appealed for calm.

And then England changed gear. Sterling thought he had equalised with a close-range effort that Schmeichel parried well.

Seconds later, though, he was in again after brilliant work from Kane and Saka, and this time there was nothing the goalkeeper could do as Denmark captain Kjaer turned into his own net under pressure from Sterling.

It was a superb response from England and another small psychological test passed. But a bigger test was still to come,

England had to find a way to win the game, to do what no England side has ever managed in the past. That barrier remained to be broken and as the game went on, it looked increasingly likely that they would face the ultimate test of nerve in penalties.

But Southgate has said this is not a squad that wants to leave things to fate or chance, and they wrote more of their own history with Kane's late winner.

Reasons for concern

Fittingly, England's toughest test is surely still to come in the form of an Italy side who have redefined their traditional approach to tournament football, while managing to retain the key characteristics that made them so successful in the past.

Southgate will obviously be encouraged by the win over Denmark, while knowing his side will have to improve in certain areas on Sunday – notably the midfield.

After an initial burst from England at the start of the game, Denmark took control and Damsgaard's goal, while spectacular, was in keeping with the run of play.

The problem for England was the Danes relentless pressing, leaving Southgate's side too often to bypass the midfield with hopeful long balls.

It was also reflected in the first real signs of nervousness at the Finals from Pickford, who twice sent the ball straight out of play in the first half, either side of presenting possession straight to Thomas Delaney, which led to a Denmark chance.

With Delaney and Pierre-Emile Hojbjgerg – the beating heart of the visitors – snapping into challenges and denying Kalvin Phillips, Declan Rice and Mason Mount oxygen, England lacked midfield impetus and balance.

It was a theme which initially continued into the second half, although Phillips and Rice soon became more assertive, pushing forward and helping England to dominate possession.

As the Danes tired, the result was near relentless England pressure, as they pegged back the visitors from the hour-mark until Kane's goal.

With England in total control, Southgate may have been more assertive with his substitutes and it was not until the start of extra-time that he introduced Jordan Henderson and Phil Foden for Rice and Mount. You wondered if earlier changes might have prevented the need for extra-time.

There was more than enough there to worry Southgate and give him food for thought ahead of Sunday, particularly given the quality of Italy's midfield, led by the metronomic Jorginho.

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