England are preparing to face Denmark in the semi-finals of Euro 2020 at Wembley on Wednesday, knowing victory will secure them a place in a major men’s tournament final for the first time since 1966.
Gareth Southgate’s side will face Italy in Sunday’s final if they defeat the Danes in front of around 60,000 mostly England fans at Wembley.
Millions more are expected to cheer the Three Lions on from home, in pubs and designated fan parks after a peak TV audience of 20.9 million watched them cruise past Ukraine 4-0 in the quarter-finals last Saturday.
“We don’t have as good a football history as we like to believe sometimes,” said Southgate. “These players are making massive strides and breaking down barriers all the time.
“We have never been to a European Championship final so we can be the first England team to do that which is really exciting.”
Travel restrictions imposed by the UK to curb the spread of coronavirus means fans based in Denmark will not be able to cheer on their team at Wembley.
Instead some 6,000 tickets for the semi-final have been made available to Danes living in the UK. The Danish FA has sent 1,000 jerseys and other red and white merchandise to London for fans attending.
England, who have never won the European Championship, are looking to reach a first major tournament final for 55 years.
They have appeared in five previous World Cup or European Championship semi-finals but only advanced once.
However, there is mounting excitement – and hope has turned to expectation – that Southgate’s side can deliver a first major tournament triumph since the 1966 World Cup.
Cars and homes are decked out with England flags while pubs have been given permission to stay open an extra 45 minutes until 23:15 BST on Sunday, in case the final at Wembley, which kicks-off at 20:00, goes to extra time and penalties.
Meanwhile, England supporters have been serenading their team through the tournament with chants of ‘Football’s Coming Home’, the anthem that first became popular when the Three Lions reached the Euro 96 semi-finals.
Asked what it would mean to ruin England’s dreams of Euro glory, Denmark keeper Kasper Schmeichel said: “Has it ever been home? I don’t know. Have you ever won it?”
But England captain Harry Kane said the team was in a strong position to put that right.
“He’s right in terms it hasn’t ‘come home’ in this competition for us,” said Kane. “We know if we can get it right then it should be enough to get us over the line.”
Nineteen-year-old Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka has recovered from the knock that forced him to miss the Ukraine win but Southgate must decide whether to stick with the same XI that started in Rome or make changes.
The England boss used a 4-2-3-1 formation last time out and has to choose whether to revert back to a 3-4-3 set-up with the aim of stifling the Danes.
Denmark boss Kasper Hjulmand has no fresh injury concerns and could name an unchanged starting line-up for the third game despite the head coach admitting that fatigue is a concern.
Hjulmand said on Monday “the tank was emptied” during the quarter-final win over the Czech Republic.
Euro 2020 has already seen England end a 55-year wait for a knockout tie victory over Germany but Southgate is only too aware the Three Lions have fallen agonisingly short on their past four semi-final appearances at major tournaments.
In 2018, his side were denied a place in the World Cup final after an extra time defeat to Croatia in Moscow.
“We are ready for the game, the players are ready, they have got tremendous experience themselves having been in this situation before,” said Southgate.
“Our preparations have been calm and we know we are playing a very good opponent. It’s going to be a really tight game and an exciting game for everybody.”
Denmark have become one of the stories of the tournament and have gone from strength to strength since the trauma of their opening game, when midfielder Christian Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest.
Former Tottenham player Eriksen, who has since been discharged from hospital, scored the winner from the penalty spot the last time Denmark visited Wembley to play England in the Nations League in October 2020, as Harry Maguire was sent off.
The Danes, who lost their first two games to Finland and Belgium, have won three matches in a row to reach the semi-finals.
It is nearly three decades since the Danes shocked the continent with their victory at Euro 1992, taking advantage of a late call-up to the finals to produce their country’s greatest sporting moment.
They are just two Wembley wins away from writing another fairytale.
“We almost lost our best player, our best friend and the heart of the team,” said Hjulmand. “We have tried to fight through these emotions and we have played fantastic football.
“We’ve shown who we are and I am very proud.”