It was a rub your eyes moment. Look at the top left-hand side of the screen. Ukraine 0-4 England. There was still 30 minutes left to play in what was a quarter-final of a major tournament.
Gareth Southgate’s team made it look like a run-of-the-mill qualifier against one of Europe’s lesser likes. It was cool. It was calm. It was very collected. This group of players are creating history and dragging their long-suffering supporters with them. Rarely has an England team been trusted with confidence to get the job done.
How far this nation has come on the field. Let’s not forget, this was the same England team that were heckled off it by all of those unfortunate to witness their 2-1 defeat to Iceland at the last European Championships. A national sporting embarrassment. The future looked bleak. Harry Kane was taking corners that day. Jack Wilshere was playing centre-midfield. A fading Wayne Rooney way past his best.
But the narrative has gone from humiliation to heroic in just over five years.
Southgate’s side are through to their second consecutive tournament semi-final. A semi-final which is at Wembley. Kane is back among the goals, Raheem Sterling remains in the form of his life and Jordan Pickford has yet to concede a goal in this tournament, helped out immeasurably by the monstrous presence of Harry Maguire, who must be knocking on the door of being the best centre-back in the world such is his dominance of duels in both boxes.
They are doing it with so much talent in reserve. Not many countries could afford to leave out Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Jude Bellingham, Marcus Rashford and Jordan Henderson and still canter to success in a major tournament knockout game. Hey, England were even able to make tactical substitutions to protect those already on a booking. It was bordering on comical.
‘It’s OK, we’ve got this guys,’ was the message the England players sent to the fans through their performance. Same again Wednesday, please.
Raheem Sterling for Player of the Tournament, anyone? The odds are certainly narrowing.
Sterling may well have been a spectator for England second-half pyrotechnics but it was the Manchester City forward who provided the spark at the start of the game when his driving run and clever pass created Kane’s opener. That’s been the trademark feature of Sterling’s tournament: a determination to try to make these things happen whenever he has taken possession. He has been England’s danger man from minute one.
The curiosity is that the Raheem Sterling of summer 2020 is so very different to the Raheem Sterling of spring 2020 when he lost his form and his place in the Manchester City team. One reminder critics of Sterling’s critics have declined to mention in recent days is that Sterling scored just once in his last 16 appearances for his club side and his last outing was a disastrous display in the Champions League final when he was bullied into submission by Reece James. In that context, debate about Sterling’s starting spot in the England team this summer was justified.
But that was then. And turning to the here and now, a penny or two for the thoughts of Pep Guardiola. Where was this Sterling when the City boss needed him most in Porto? And just was it about playing for England that seems to bring out the best in Sterling? Is it the presence of a bona fide centre-forward? Is it the support he has received from Southgate? Is it the difference in style, with England’s wingers clearly encouraged to take on their man rather than maintain a pass and move cycle?
“It is just happiness, just being happy, enjoying my football and that is what I am doing being here with the national team,” Sterling himself said of his revitalised form last week.
Any suggestion that Sterling will depart City this summer are surely now annulled. But the City boss must be wondering what more he can do to inspire Sterling to replicate his country form for his club when he returns to domestic duty next month. If he can manage it, City may well end up with the signing of the summer even if they do not land Kane.
Euro 2020 could not have started any worse for Denmark. We are all very much aware of Christian Eriksen’s collapse and, a few hours later, they were beaten by Finland in an emotional tournament opener.
An inspired second-half performance from Kevin De Bruyne helped Belgium to victory in the next game. But against Russia, Denmark finally arrived to ecstatic scenes.
Those in the Denmark camp have spoken about how the team have grown closer after Eriksen’s collapse, and that has permeated through the remainder of their Euro 2020 campaign, including among the fans in the stands.
On Saturday, they continued to show they are a team to be reckoned with and how that bond is still helping to carry them through. Both goals was superbly taken, and they needed to show some real guts to defend when the Czech Republic threw everything at them.
Make no mistake though – Denmark are not here on emotion alone. They have some incredible talent in their squad and had Eriksen still been with them, you would have not have raised an eyebrow if they had also made it to the semi-finals. In fact, you might say they had an even better chance with the playmaker.
But the momentum is certainly with Denmark as their rollercoaster tournament continues. Can they match the heroics of 1992? Underestimate them at your peril…
It doesn’t get much more comfortable than that. England’s controlled and dominant 4-0 win over Ukraine means they will face Denmark in the Euro 2020 semi-final at Wembley on Wednesday. Are the stars aligning for Gareth Southgate’s side? And how has he managed to rid England of the fear factor?
Alice Piper is joined by Rob Dorsett, Adam Bate and Gerard Brand to discuss the win in Rome, as Harry Kane returns to form, Luke Shaw shows up Jose Mourinho in his new manner and England keep another clean sheet. It’s all looking rosy, right?