Sometimes, your luck is just in, you catch a break when you most need it and, after so much major tournament semi-final heartache, England finally got something to go their way and, in the process, one of these suffocatingly high tension encounters to follow suit.
The 90 minutes had been nerve-shredding, England forced to find a response to Mikkel Damsgaard’s stunning 25 yard free-kick on the half-hour, which they did when Bukayo Saka’s cross, intended for Raheem Sterling, was bundled over his own line by the Denmark captain, Simon Kjær.
With the battle lines drawn, England pushed in the second half of regulation time only they could not create anything clear-cut. Denmark’s resistance was stout. But on into extra time, it finally happened, England had the chance to win only their second semi-final in six attempts and advance into a first final since the 1966 World Cup.
Inevitably, it was Sterling who made it happen, his pace having worried Denmark from the first whistle. He sliced into the area and went to ground under a challenge from Joakim Mæhle. The contact appeared minimal but the Dutch referee, Danny Makkelie, felt it was sufficient to award the penalty and VAR agreed.
So there was Harry Kane, the epitome of efficiency from the spot and, as everybody knows, he hardly ever misses. And yet he did this time, his side-foot shot read easily by Kasper Schmeichel, who got his hand to it. But the Denmark goalkeeper, who had earlier made fine saves to deny Sterling and Harry Maguire, did not get the ball away. He merely got it out and, eyes lighting up in relief, Kane gobbled up the rebound, blasting into the empty net.
Gareth Southgate would replace his substitute, Jack Grealish, for the second period of extra time, with Kieran Trippier and revert to a back three system and England got the job done. They will face Italy in Sunday’s final. The dream continues to burn brightly.
England had come home after the quarter-final win over Ukraine in Rome and it was one of those nights when the emotion crackled from the first whistle. The energy from the stands during the last-16 victory over Germany had been a thing of power and wonder and it was easy to feel that everything was ratcheted up here; even more supporters present, living every moment, each of them belting out every song; the stakes even higher.
Southgate’s players sought to harness the passion from the stands and they were on the front foot at the outset, brimming with pace from front to back; Sterling showing that he would back himself in any foot race and Kyle Walker the same. The full-back’s speed on the cover was invaluable, particularly when he snuffed out one early high ball forward for Damsgaard.
When the tempo was high in a frantic opening 15 minutes, England threatened, with the clearest opening being created for Sterling after Mason Mount had found Kane and he worked it out wide. Sterling tore inside, eking out the space for a right-footed shot only to scuff disappointingly. There was also the moment when Kane shaped a low cross from the right for Sterling only to put a fraction too much on it.
Denmark’s story at these finals has been framed by the Christian Eriksen trauma, and it was a nice touch from the Football Association to have Kane hand over an England shirt before kick-off with “Eriksen 10” on the back. The episode has brought a wider perspective, reminding everybody that this is just sport, when everything is said and done; that human life is what really matters.
Denmark stabilised impressively after England’s initial burst, with Pierre-Emile Højbjerg running through only to shoot weakly and Kasper Dolberg seeing an effort deflect wide after a poor Pickford clearance. It would not be the only one from the goalkeeper, who betrayed hitherto unseen nerves.
Damsgaard has proved an excellent replacement for Eriksen, all easy movement and sharp technique, and he had gone close with a curling effort towards the far, top corner before he stunned Wembley with the breakthrough goal. The free-kick was 25 yards out, slightly to the left of centre, and the whip and power that Damsgaard summoned was too much for Pickford, who rather flailed as the ball fizzed past him.
How would England respond? Brilliantly, was the answer. Kane dropped deep and wide and, from his 38th-minute cross, Sterling ought to have equalised only to blast straight at Schmeichel. The Denmark goalkeeper emerged with credit for his bravery.
England were undeterred and Kane was at the heart of the move that led to parity, collecting from Walker and releasing Saka with a slide-rule pass. Saka’s cross was meant for Sterling and, even if it was a little bit behind him, the forward would surely have scored had Kjær not bundled over his own line ahead of him.
The home side’s pre-match status as favourites had been pronounced, although Denmark were hardly outsiders in the mould of Ukraine. They sit 10th in the Fifa world rankings, six places behind England, and had beaten them at this stadium last October. They married a relish for the physical fight with smart movement and no little slickness on the ball.
What was noticeable in the aftermath of Damsgaard’s goal was Southgate urging his players to calm down, particularly after Pickford had sent a clearance straight at a red shirt. This was a test of their ability but also their composure and game management.
England went close early in the second half and, when Harry Maguire rose to guide a header from Mount’s free-kick towards the bottom corner, the fans behind the goal were ready to erupt. Schmeichel, though, got across to claw the ball to safety. It was an excellent save.
The hosts tried to make inroads up the flanks, with their wide players working off the backs of Denmark’s outside centre-halves and Luke Shaw flickering on the overlap from left-back. The action pulsed one way and then the other. It was drama of the highest order.