After so much major event semi-final heartbreak, England finally got something to go their way and, in the process, one of these suffocatingly high-tension matches to follow suit.
The first half-hour had been tense, with England under pressure to respond to Mikkel Damsgaard’s magnificent 25-yard free-kick, which they did when Bukayo Saka’s cross, meant for Raheem Sterling, was shoved over the goal-line by Denmark’s captain, Simon Kjr.
With the battle lines formed, England pressed hard in the second half of regulation time, but was unable to strike a decisive note. Denmark put up a valiant fight. But it happened in extra time — England had the potential to win only their second semi-final in six tries and move to their first World Cup final since 1966.
Sterling, who had concerned Denmark with his pace from the opening whistle, was unavoidably the catalyst. In response to a challenge from Joakim Mhle, he slashed into the area and went to ground. Despite the fact that the contact appeared to be minor, Dutch referee Danny Makkelie decided it was sufficient to award the penalty, and VAR agreed. There was a second ball on the pitch at the moment, which added to the unease, albeit it did not appear to disrupt play.
So there was Harry Kane, poised over the kick, and he rarely misses, as everyone knows. For good reason, the England captain is known for his ice-cold efficiency. His side-footed shot was read too easily by Kasper Schmeichel, who got his hand down to it, and he missed this one.
However, the Danish goalkeeper, who had previously saved Sterling and Harry Maguire, was unable to get the ball away. Kane snatched up the rebound and slammed it into the empty net, his eyes brightening with relief. England had been harmed. They always manage to do so. But there was an uncommon air of calm in the second half of extra time as Southgate’s team closed out the game, preserving their composure and taking care of the ball. Denmark only touched it once inside the England area in the final 15 minutes, according to statistics.
It was well-deserved by England. They had far more shots than their opponents and were in control of the game from the start of the second half.
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