Two Chelsea Academy graduates started and another was on the bench as England won a nerve-jangling Euro 2020 semi-final at Wembley…
Mason Mount and Andreas Christensen lined up on opposite sides on a night of high drama and tension, with England coming out on top to book a place in the final of a major tournament for the first time in 55 years.
Mount was lively for the Three Lions, creating chances during his 95 minutes on the field and testing Denmark goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel on more than one occasion. He was replaced early in extra-time with the score still deadlocked at 1-1 before Harry Kane fired in a famous winner to seal the victory.
For Christensen, it was a night of disappointment as the defender left the action injured after 79 minutes, having clearly been struggling for over quarter of an hour as the Danes came under increasing pressure.
His withdrawal was a microcosm of the way Kasper Hjulmand’s men faded physically as the contest wore on and the final period of extra-time was played with 10 men after all six substitutes had been used and still fatigued players limped off.
The celebrations from the England supporters were jubilant, most of them experiencing the feeling of reaching a final for the very first time. They will have to go through the rollercoaster of emotions all over again on Sunday, when Gareth Southgate and his brave young team take on Italy for a prized piece of silverware.
England started brightly in front of a raucous Wembley crowd, boosted up to 75 per cent capacity for the semi-finals onwards, with Mount and Christensen in direct combat. The latter started on the right of Denmark’s back three, keeping tabs on Harry Kane as well as his club team-mate, who began in an advanced central role. Reece James was on the bench.
While Raheem Sterling caused some early problems for Christensen coming infield from the left flank, the Danes were largely untroubled after riding out the initial surge. Mount enjoyed some nice early touches but played his first significant role in the right-back zone, producing a well-timed tackle to prevent Denmark from recycling the ball back into the box.
With half an hour on the clock, Wembley finally fell silent as England conceded a goal for the first time at the tournament. Christensen was involved in the build-up having been fouled by Luke Shaw and the free-kick was dispatched brilliantly by Mikkel Damsgaard, over the wall and high above Jordan Pickford’s despairing dive.
Facing adversity to come from behind, England were momentarily shaken but quickly recovered to settle once again. Sterling fired a free-kick of his own into the wall before the Three Lions restored parity within 10 minutes of falling behind, with the Manchester City forward at the heart of the move that saw Simon Kjaer slice the ball into his own net.
Mount’s set-piece deliveries had been a big weapon in the quarter-final victory against Ukraine, earning him an assist for Jordan Henderson’s goal, and he almost picked up another early in the second half. A teasing delivery from the right was met by the head of Harry Maguire but the defender’s downward effort was expertly kept out by Schmeichel.
Moments later, the 22-year-old advanced promisingly down the right before being shut down by Joakim Maehle, though he did breach the Danes’ defence again shortly afterwards when firing at goal from the opposite flank. Schmeichel, as he was for so much of the evening, proved difficult to beat.
The first sign of Christensen’s struggles came just after the hour mark when he went down for treatment following a sustained period of England pressure. After initially carrying on, he soon tweaked the muscle again when reaching out at full stretch to intercept a dangerous pass in behind and that proved the end of his night.
Down the other end, Mount had Schmeichel scrambling with a mis-hit cross that almost dropped over the Leicester City goalkeeper, who adjusted his feet well and shovelled the ball over the top for a corner.
England’s late dominance proved to be in vain and an additional period of play was required to separate the sides. Southgate introduced Phil Foden and Jordan Henderson, Premier League winners with fresh legs, and Mount departed to take a seat on the bench, though he was soon on his feet as the hosts were awarded a penalty.
Sterling proved to be the decisive force once again, tumbling in the box and drawing a foul. VAR checked the Dutch referee’s decision and backed the on-field call to award a spot-kick. Kane’s effort was weak but that elusive England good fortune at major tournaments saw the ball pop straight back into his path and the rebound was tucked away.
The remainder of extra-time was played out with composure and confidence, England keeping possession, taking advantage of numerical, physical and psychological advantages. The class of 2021 do not bear the scars of previous generations and they now march on to Sunday’s final with belief and the backing of a long-suffering nation.