England have made it through to their first European Championship final. A home Euro 2020 will have a home European finalist. Here is how they got to the showpiece Wembley final.
The Three Lions’ Road to the European Championship Final
A Group Stage Showing More Efficiency Than Style
England’s journey to their first tournament final in 55 years started with a narrow 1-0 victory over Croatia. It was a game with a raucous atmosphere at Wembley despite only 22,500 permitted fans. A blistering first 20 minutes threatened to blow the Croats away, but Phil Foden’s shot hitting the post was the nearest the Three Lions came to a first goal. That was until the second half when a mazy run and super assist from Kalvin Phillips gave Raheem Sterling the keys to the Wembley castle with England’s first goal of Euro 2020. Cue bedlam for the England faithful, who savoured the moment after months of pent-up frustration.
Gareth Southgate’s men soaked up the pressure of the opposition to secure a priceless three points. England had lift-off. It was an impressive win against the 2018 World Cup finalists playing with verve, freedom, enjoyment and control.
Next up were Scotland and a juicy derby game to get the blood pumping. It worked more for the Scots, who rose to the challenge and performed admirably. It was the Tartan Army who were the better team on the night and Jordan Pickford saved his side on numerous occasions. England were shackled and subdued by the pressure and were lucky to take a point.
England had to improve in the final group match against a wily Czech Republic side and they did. The team did enough with a well organised and controlled performance to secure a second win thanks again to Raheem Sterling. Bukayo Saka and Jack Grealish both got their first taste of the tournament and both shone. Strength in depth was becoming a clear weapon for Gareth Southgate. England topped their group but the doubts were still there. The lack of goals was problematic as was the lack of form of Harry Kane. But England were solid as a rock at the back thanks to the performances of Tyrone Mings, John Stones and the returning Harry Maguire.
Defeating an Old Foe
England then faced Germany in the Round of 16. The historic rivalry once again. There have been many years of hurt but this is a different era for English football. And it was proven so as England swept past Germany 2-0 with a confident and assured performance.
Once again, the defence were rock solid and Sterling and a first goal for Kane ensured Germany were vanquished, though not before a huge chance for Thomas Muller which was inexplicably missed. Sterling was a relieved figure given that it was his poor pass back which gifted the striker the chance. You need luck to win a tournament and there it was.
Meanwhile, Pickford made himself big and produced some excellent saves to confirm his confident form in the tournament. England celebrated as they defeated their historic rival at Wembley for the first time since 2001.
Confirmation of Something Special
Then came the result and goals the England fans craved – a four-goal demolition of Ukraine to solidify a momentum that was steadily building. Kane was once again in amongst the goals with two strikes, as was Harry Maguire and a first goal in over 60 caps for Jordan Henderson. England at set-pieces were deadly that night with both Mason Mount and Luke Shaw starring with the dead ball.
England Make Historic European Final
With that, England were back in a major semi-final, three years after playing against Croatia and two after playing against the Netherlands in the Nations League. England are becoming usual guests at the end of tournament football. Standing in their way for a place in the final was Denmark and a team playing with emotion and quality. They showed their potential as the Danes became the first team to breach the England defence with a wonderful free-kick by Mikkel Damsgaard.
But England came roaring back and gradually eroded the wilting opposition. It was a tense game that went the full 120 minutes. But England prevailed thanks to an own goal and a penalty rebound from Harry Kane.
That strength in depth was shown again with the inclusion of Jack Grealish and Phil Foden in extra time as England bossed extra time with impressive strings of long possession to take the sting out of the game. A new-found level of game management, key experience and confidence to keep the ball in pressure situations is highlighted by the fact this is a team used to winning now with several members lifting the Premier League and Champions League winners. Vindication for the manager with his pragmatic and conservative approach paying dividends to make the final.
Wembley was awash with delight and euphoria as England were in a first final since that famous 1966 World Cup. The staff all sang a passionate rendition of Sweet Caroline as players and supporters connected as one. There was redemption for Gareth Southgate too. Twenty-five years previously, he was crestfallen as his missed penalty saw England knocked out of the semi-final stage. How he enjoyed his night as he threw his arms in the air to serenade the England supporters.
The Final Countdown: Is Football Coming Home?
It was a special atmosphere and there will be one more to come on Sunday night. England take their place in the Euro 2020 final against a mighty impressive Italy side. Roberto Mancini’s side are 33 games unbeaten stretching back two years to when Portugal defeated them 1-0. Since then, the Italians have become a winning machine and a solid outfit. Two well-drilled teams with an ultra-solid defence points to a tight final. But both have firepower up front to get the goals.
The Gods of Football With England for Euro 2020 Final?
It is ironic that England’s two fixtures cancelled in March 2020 due to the pandemic were scheduled to be against their semi-final opponents Denmark and fellow finalists Italy. How football can be written in the stars. And will the stars align to signify that after a long wait that football is indeed coming home?
Another good omen could lie in the fact that in 2012, Chelsea won the Champions League and Italy were beaten European Championship finalists in that summer’s final to Spain. Fast forward nine years and Chelsea once again lifted the Champions League and Italy are in a major final. Could lightning strike twice?
Not long to wait for England’s date with destiny. Send us victorious.