'It's a strange new world we're living in': Matt Scrafton's Euro 2020 verdict as England edge past Denmark to reach Wembley final

It’s not supposed to be like this, is it?

Thursday, 8th July 2021, 12:05 pm
Updated Thursday, 8th July 2021, 12:06 pm

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Deservedly beating Germany in a knockout game, thrashing our quarter-final opponents in comprehensive fashion and avoiding a penalty shootout in a nail-biting last-four encounter to make it into a first final in 55 years - that’s not the England I know.

It’s a strange new world we’re living in.

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In the heat of battle, I was critical of England’s performance on Wednesday night, especially in the first-half where I felt Gareth Southgate’s men played into Denmark’s hands a little bit.

But on reflection, I was incredibly harsh, because the Three Lions were excellent.

The Danish are a top side, one that is well coached and where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. They’ve also been riding on the crest of an emotional wave since the near tragic Christian Eriksen incident in their opening group game.

But did Denmark create a clear-cut chance at Wembley over the 120 minutes of football? They had one or two moments, but I can’t recall a standout opportunity.

England's players celebrate reaching the Euro 2020 final. Picture: PA

Their goal, meanwhile, came from a moment of individual brilliance from the young star Mikkel Damsgaard, who certainly has a bright future ahead of him.

But the Danes tired from 60 minutes onwards and, despite being the most cynical of England supporters, I always felt it was only a matter of time until we scored again.

Naturally, there’s always that nagging doubt in the back of your mind that chances will come and go and the game will inevitably be decided by spot kicks. Thank the Lord it didn’t make it that far, I’m not sure I could have handled it.

Speaking of penalties, the decision to award England one in the first-half of extra-time has certainly created fierce debate.

Was it a foul on Raheem Sterling? I’m still not sure. If there was contact from Joakim Maehle, it was minimal.

It was one of those incidents where it ‘looked’ like a penalty on first viewing, with Sterling racing across the Danish defender who appeared to swipe his legs away from him. You can certainly see why the referee gave it.

Once it gets to that point, it comes down to the VAR officials who have to determine whether the man in charge has made a clear and obvious error. I’m probably biased, but I don’t think he did.

Anyway, all the chatter about the disputed penalty shouldn’t take any gloss off what was an excellent night for England. We were by far the better team - producing 20 attempts on goal to Denmark’s nine, our expected goals was 3.18 compared to Denmark’s 0.27 - and not even the most ardent of anti-England fan can claim our victory was undeserved.

We made hard work of it, but we found a way to get over the line - something we’ve historically failed to do at the all-important moments.

Let’s be honest, if it wasn’t for the magnificent Kasper Schmeichel, the margin of victory would have been greater and we probably would have completed the job inside the 90 minutes.

But where’s the fun in that, eh?

While it’s been heartening to see the excitement grip the nation, there’s no point making it to a final just to make up the numbers. We’ve got to win, it’s as simple as that.

Those trying to play down expectations by claiming they’re happy just to make it this far are kidding themselves. That’s not how sport works.

The pain and anguish of losing a major final is unrivalled. There’s no point lying to ourselves, it will hurt if it’s the Italians that emerge victorious.

There’s every chance that could happen, too. While home advantage could prove key, Roberto Mancini’s men are a top, top side and have been excellent all tournament.

They’re very similar to England in some respects, in the way they set up and how difficult it is to score against them. But their 33-game unbeaten run proves just how big a challenge it will be on Sunday night.

Can we do it though? Of course we can.

If you allow me to indulge myself for one minute, I can’t help but reflect on the last five years or so.

The club I support, Lincoln City, have won two promotions during that time and have even claimed a cup win in a Wembley final, something they had previously never done.

The club I cover and have a great deal of affection for, Blackpool, have also won two promotions in five seasons, securing a return to the Championship after a six-year absence and are firmly a club on the up.

England, meanwhile, have made it to a major final for the first time in my lifetime, the last time coming in 1966. Southgate has masterminded three sem-final appearances in as many years, if you count the Nations League.

I need to pinch myself and keep reminding myself that this isn’t how football is supposed to be. It’s supposed to be a miserable existence, one where success is rare and inter-linked with humbling defeats, pain, dismay and dejection.

I’m not prepared for this success to end just yet, so please bring it home England.

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