Muscat: It was a penalty that once again proved to be decisive, as Harry Kane scored from his own rebound in the first half of extra-time against Denmark to win 2-1, and set up an enticing finale against Italy on Sunday.
A tight first half saw the Danes – the underdogs at this tournament playing with an amazing collective spirit – open the scoring when Mikkel Damsgaard struck an absolutely wonderful free kick past a stranded Jordan Pickford who could do little to stop it from entering his net.
It was not a lead that would last for long, however: about seven minutes later, Bukayo Saka’s fleet-footed run and low cross was intended to pick out Harry Kane but found Danish captain Simon Kjaer instead. The centre-back could only watch aghast as his clearance went into the roof of his own net.
After a tight opening 45 minutes, the second half began the brighter. It was the Danes who began more earnestly, creating the more clear-cut chances. Striker Kasper Dolberg forced an amazing save out of Pickford, although he was adjudged to be offside, before then firing one from distance, which was comfortably gathered by the England number one.
In between these shots, Martin Braithwaite slashed at the side netting from an acute angle, but the best chance of the opening exchanges fell to England, when a free kick conceded on the right-hand side of the pitch saw an excellent ball launched into the box. Harry Maguire flung himself at it, and Kasper Schmeichel needed to produce his best reflexes to deny England the chance to take the lead.
Mason Mount then showed good footwork to burst into the box, but the midfielder was quickly closed down by a pair of Denmark defenders before he could get his shot off.
As the game reached the hour mark, both managers were looking to change the status quo: Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand decided to make a triple substitution, bringing on Christian Norgaard, Yussuf Poulsen, and Daniel Wass, while his opposite number Gareth Southgate chose to replace Bukayo Saka with Jack Grealish.
It was the Three Lions’ change that seemed to be the better one: England looked more determined and began to dominate possession, while the new Denmark substitutes’ requiring time to adjust was made evident when Wass was shown the yellow card for illegally impeding Grealish’s surging run forward.
Half-chances continued to come England’s way: Raheem Sterling was found in the box, but the Danish centre-backs made sure his shot was blocked before more damage could be done.
England then thought they had a penalty when Harry Kane went down in the box: the referee, however, indicated in the other direction, awarding the Scandinavians a free kick for a foul committed by the home side’s captain just outside the box, a decision that was roundly booed by an incandescent Wembley Stadium filled with about 60,000 home fans.
The Danes were forced into a change about 12 minutes before the end of normal time: Andreas Christensen, who had picked up an injury earlier in the half, had to be replaced in a like-for-like sub by Joachim Andersen.
Luke Shaw then attempted to fire goalwards, only to see his effort blocked as well, before Kalvin Phillips attempted a long-range effort that skipped narrowly wide of Schmeichel’s right-hand post.
With 10 minutes remaining on the clock, the game had settled into one where the Danes were happy to sit back and attack on the counter, while England continued to probe for opportunities. A foul by Tom Delaney allowed Shaw to launch another ball in the box. A backpedalling Maguire attempted to guide his header on target, but it was always going to be a challenging effort to do so.
With the game looking likely to need extra time, Hjulmand made another change with just that in mind, Mathias Jensen replacing an exhausted Delaney.
Raheem Sterling had two opportunities to run down the right and steal a last-minute winner: his first cross was cut out by Jannik Vestergaard at full stretch, his second fell to Phillips on the edge of the area, he fired well over.
The English had a late free kick with about 90 seconds of the six minutes of added time remaining. Mason Mount launched the ball once again into the box, Maguire once again rose highest, and Schmeichel was again required to make a save.
England recycled possession to give Kane one last chance in normal time, but Simon Kjaer’s block meant the game was another at the European Championships to go to extra time. Southgate brought on Phil Foden before the start of the additional 30 minutes, and England continued where they left off, laying siege to the Denmark goal.
Harry Kane’s thumping effort required Schmeichel to stick out a hand, before two lofted balls in quick succession were shepherded away by the Danish defence. Jack Grealish then fired a curler towards goal, although it was straight at Schmeichel, but Raheem Sterling could only fire the rebound well over the bar.
The 1966 World Cup winners’ persistence finally paid off just before the stroke of half time in extra time, when Joakim Maehle was adjudged to have fouled Sterling in the box. Kane stepped up to take the resulting penalty. Schmeichel saved the first effort, but the rebound was smashed home by the striker, and the vast home support at Wembley erupted in equal parts joy and relief.
Southgate threw on Kieran Trippier to help his side conserve their lead, with their opponents now forced to attack, after having defended for much of the game.
Braithwaite earned his side a corner with six minutes remaining, Harry Kane managed to head clear and keep his side in the lead. It was a lead they would maintain all through extra time, and book a place in the final against Italy.