Giorgio Chiellini quipped Italy's squad believed Roberto Mancini to be "crazy" when the Azzurri boss initially laid out his plans to win Euro 2020.

Mancini was appointed Italy coach in May 2018, after the Azzurri's failure to qualify for that year's World Cup.

After an indifferent start to his tenure, Italy have gone on a record-setting 33-match unbeaten run, leading them to the Euro 2020 final, in which they will face England at Wembley.

Along with their opponents on Sunday, Italy have been the standout performers in the competition, and saw off fellow heavyweights Belgium and Spain en route to the final.

Juventus' Chiellini has been a key figure, with the veteran campaigner making four appearances.

And though Italy will be full of confidence heading into the showdown, he revealed the faith in Mancini's plan was not always so prominent. 

"[Getting to the final is] a dream we've been chasing over the years, a dream we've been carrying [with us] for three years, a dream our coach slowly put in our minds until it became true," Chiellini told UEFA.com.

"At the beginning, when he told us to have in our minds the idea of winning the Euro, we thought he was crazy; instead, during these years he has created a team which is now on the brink of doing that.

"And as he has repeated to us after every match, 'one centimetre at a time', and now there is only the last centimetre left.

"This championship has been very emotional, from the first match against Turkey up to now. But, if I read some of the texts that I sent before Euro 2020 to some of my close friends, the feeling was that we would have a summer filled with emotion, joy, magical nights and adventures.

"It was in us because you felt the ease and the bond that we feel when this team does things together."

 

Chiellini is 36, but has never won an international competition with Italy, having missed out on the squad for the 2006 World Cup.

He has played in a European Championship final before, only to fall foul of an all-conquering Spain side that thrashed Italy 4-0 in 2012.

" A win is as exciting at 36 as it is at 21. Maybe at 36 you feel it more because you understand more how hard it is and the work that goes into it," said Chiellini, the eighth-oldest player to have been involved in Euro 2020.

"I believe that I have succeeded in bringing my experience here and the emotions that I felt from the 15 years since I started playing professionally.

"You know how it feels at every age: at 20, at 25, and at 30 you start understanding your team-mates' behaviour. Now, I have the maturity to understand fully what this championship means to us."

John Stones lauded Gareth Southgate's "unique" management as the Manchester City defender prepares for England's Euro 2020 final showdown with Italy.

Stones has started every game for the Three Lions at the tournament, with only goalkeeper Jordan Pickford (570) playing more minutes than the centre-back (559), who has also attempted more passes (424) than any other England player.

The 27-year-old has helped keep five clean sheets, with England having set a new national record for not conceding a goal before Mikkel Damsgaard's free-kick found the net in Wednesday's semi-final win over Denmark.

Southgate has made some brave, and at times unpopular, decisions throughout the tournament, though the vast majority have so far come off, with England having progressed to the final of a major tournament for the first time since 1966, and just the second time in history.

While England approached group-stage games against Croatia, Scotland and the Czech Republic with caution, the attack clicked into gear in a 4-0 quarter-final hammering of Ukraine, following a 2-0 win over Germany in the last 16.

England then had 20 shots to Denmark's six in the semi-final clash at Wembley, with the squad's strength in depth and spirit once more on show.

"Every manager I've had is definitely unique and has their own philosophy," Stones told a news conference when asked about Southgate's impact.

"I think Gareth's created an unbelievable culture within our squad and calmness, it's his unique quality as a person and a manager. He's got great staff around him and an incredible squad with great characters in that, one of his best characteristics is his calmness under pressure.

"His willingness to win – I think that shines through, when you've got a manager with that quality, it passes through the team, you soon jump on board.

"He's got a unique quality of staying calm and it passes through the team. [Against Denmark] it was the first time we had been to extra time [at Euro 2020], we stayed calm, stuck to the game plan and it worked.

"We don't need to change anything, we cover every aspect in our preparation."

 

England were among the pre-tournament favourites, though their run to the final has been impressive, if the performances have not quite matched some of those by Sunday's opponents Italy.

Stones, alongside first Tyrone Mings and then Harry Maguire, has been particularly sharp, continuing his form after a season in which he defied the odds at City.

Indeed, at this time in 2020, Stones was being linked with a move away from City, yet the former Everton and Barnsley defender fought back to become a key figure for Pep Guardiola and now Southgate.

"It's something we've only dreamed of at the start of the tournament, but we've got this far, we're here now and we've just grown and grown throughout the tournament, not put too much pressure on ourselves," Stones said of England's run.

"We've overcome some tough tests over the past few years, learned a lot of things, gained a lot of experience and all the learning curves. A massive occasion.

"We're approaching this game how we would any other at club level or whatever competition we're in. The England team, whoever has contributed, everyone is giving everything for that shirt and the nation. We all loved the England team growing up, being able to play now, we cherish it, it's a special moment for us to do that." 

Asked if his struggles at City had helped shape him, Stones – who did not feature for England last year – replied: "Yes, a little bit, all those times have made me who I am.

"I'd have liked an easier route but that's football. You have setbacks. I've tried to learn from them, stay positive and true to myself.

"It's a massive moment for me and my family, going through tough times and the hard work and dedication. It's a proud moment and hopefully I get to be in the starting XI."

Raheem Sterling has been "unplayable" for England and one last big performance from the Manchester City star could prove to be the difference against Italy.

That is the opinion of former England captain Alan Shearer ahead of the Euro 2020 final at Wembley on Sunday.

England reached their first final at a major tournament since 1966 when they came from behind to beat Denmark 2-1 in extra-time on Wednesday.

Sterling produced an effervescent display and won the controversial penalty that was converted by Harry Kane on the rebound to settle a thrilling contest.

 

Shearer believes the City forward, who scored goals in the wins over Croatia, the Czech Republic and Germany, has been England's standout performer.

"The best two teams in the tournament have reached the final, and it is going to be an incredibly tight game," Shearer wrote in his column for BBC Sport as he previewed the final.

"Italy have gone 33 games without losing which shows how strong they are. They have got the same sort of togetherness in their squad that we have,.

"But England have put in some extremely good performances too, and so many of our players have done their bit when it has mattered.

"It was Harry Kane who put us into the final with the winner on Wednesday and he was excellent for the whole game. So was Harry Maguire, and the rest of our back four too.

"The best player on the park, though, was Raheem Sterling. He was unplayable at times and it was probably his finest game in an England shirt.

"More of the same from Sterling on Sunday, and we have got one hell of a chance.

"The other thing we have got going for us, of course, is the Wembley crowd. There will be more than 65,000 fans again at the final, and the majority of them will be behind England.

"They were immense against Denmark and stuck with the team when they were 1-0 down. The players fed off their intensity when they turned things around."

 

Shearer also paid tribute to manager Gareth Southgate, who was ecstatic on the pitch after the victory over Denmark.

Southgate has made some heavily debated calls in the tournament - including restricting flair players Jack Grealish, Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho to limited roles – but has led England to their first final for 55 years.

Shearer added: "There are several reasons why I will believe in this England team when they walk out at Wembley on Sunday, and Southgate is the biggest one.

"He's led his team brilliantly in every way since Euro 2020 started and not only has he made some big decisions, he has got all of them right.

"It's easier being a player than a supporter in the stands and, like many of you, I've found it hard in the past few weeks watching on as an England fan when our games have been in the balance.

"Just imagine how tough it is for Gareth, though. As England manager he has got 60 million people on his back because he carries the hopes of all of us, the entire nation.

"There is so much scrutiny on every single call he makes, and then he has to stand alone on the touchline waiting for them to work.

"So I could understand his relief and his reaction at the end of the Denmark game when he let his emotions pour out. He did that because he feels the same way we do when we win.

"Whatever happens next, he has given us so much joy and happiness - but I'm desperate to see that same celebration again from him on Sunday night."

 

Resurgent forward Kane will lead the line for England and he has been directly involved in 28 goals in his past 27 international appearances (19 goals and nine assists).

He has already caught and surpassed the goal total recorded by Shearer (nine) at major tournaments.

One more strike will see him become England’s outright highest goalscorer in the World Cup and Euros – he is currently level with Gary Lineker on 10.

England won the World Cup in 1966 as hosts, but each of the previous two European host nation finalists in a major tournament have lost – Portugal in Euro 2004 and France at the 2016 tournament.

Kyle Walker feels England have set the bar for future generations at Euro 2020 following decades of disappointment and is convinced a rediscovered sense of national pride in the team has inspired them.

England beat Denmark 2-1 after extra time on Wednesday to secure a first ever appearance in the European Championship final, having not reached the showpiece of any major international tournament since winning the World Cup in 1966.

That 55-year period is the longest gap between major finals for any European nation, and now only Italy stand between England and the trophy.

The closest England had ever got to winning the competition before 2021 was in 1996 when they fell at the semi-finals stage, with the so-called 'Golden Generation' that followed defined by their underachievement as they never got beyond a quarter-final at the World Cup or Euros.

But under Gareth Southgate there have been strong hints of change, as they finished fourth at Russia 2018 and then also reached the semi-finals of the inaugural Nations League, and Walker believes the team's mentality is finally becoming aligned with the expectations of supporters.

"I think when you put on an England shirt – definitely in the past four years – it means something now," Walker told the FA's YouTube channel.

 

"I have heard a lot of people talking about how England haven't won a knockout game, England haven't won a penalty shoot-out, England haven't got this, England haven't got that.

"This group of lads – with the manager and the coaching staff – we just keep knocking them down and we have set the bar now for the future youngsters that are coming through.

"This is what our country wants and expects of us."

England will, of course, be considered "hosts" for the final given it – like all but one of their previous Euro 2020 games – will be played at Wembley, and there are certain advantages attached to that.

Although the past two host-nation finalists (Portugal at Euro 2004 and France at Euro 2016) of a major tournament lost the decider, prior to 2004 only Sweden (1958 World Cup) had been beaten during a final on their own turf.

The omens are generally positive for the Three Lions, who have won 15 and lost just one of their previous 17 matches at Wembley. While Italy will likely pose a challenge greater than most of the opponents in that run, Walker feels it gives England an edge – and he will not entertain back-handed comments about their status as hosts.

"These emotions and these types of games grab hold of you," he said. "We want one more effort from the fans – because that 12th man is vital.

"I hear people complaining now that England have got an advantage playing at home. But we never complained when we played certain people in their back yard, it is just the rub of the green."

Saqib Mahmood tore through Pakistan as a makeshift England side cruised to a crushing nine-wicket victory in the first game of the ODI series at Sophia Gardens.

England were forced to name an entirely new squad just two days before the opening match in Cardiff due to a coronavirus outbreak in the initial party.

A new-look team including five debutants grasped their opportunity in emphatic fashion, however, as the rusty tourists were dismissed for only 141 in 35.2 overs after being put in to bat by stand-in skipper Ben Stokes.

Mahmood took two wickets in the first over and finished with excellent figures of 4-42, while Craig Overton (2-23) and Matt Parkinson (2-28) also did damage.

Fakhar Zaman top scored with 47 in a nightmare start to the three-match series for Pakistan and England reached their target from only 21.5 overs, with Dawid Malan (68 not out) and debutant Zak Crawley (58no) making unbeaten half-centuries.

Mahmood snared Imam-ul-Haq leg before with the first ball of the game and claimed the huge wicket of Babar Azam two deliveries later, the Pakistan captain edging a peach of a delivery behind without scoring.

Lewis Gregory had Mohammad Rizwan caught by wicketkeeper John Simpson and Pakistan were 26-4 when Saud Shakeel was struck in front by a fired-up Mahmood.

Fakhar, who had scored centuries in his previous two ODI knocks against South Africa, struck six boundaries before slashing leg-spinner Parkinson to Crawley at point and while Shadab Khan added 30, Pakistan folded miserably.

Shaheen Shah Afridi saw the back of Phil Salt for only seven, but Malan and Crawley eased England home with an unbroken stand of 120.

 

MAHMOOD MAKES HIS MARK

Mahmood playing in his fifth ODI, recorded his best international figures, while Gregory conceded only one boundary from his four overs before Overton and Parkinson claimed a couple of wickets apiece.

England have now taken 33 wickets during powerplays in the 50-over format since winning the Cricket World Cup two years ago, 11 more than any other side. No team to play over three matches in that period has a better strike rate (28.2 balls per wicket) and their rate of a boundary every 10.4 deliveries is also the best.

MALAN AND CRAWLEY CASH IN

Malan missed the 2-0 series victory over Sri Lanka due to personal reasons but played fluently on his unexpected return. He has now recorded back-to-back ODI half-centuries, having also reached the landmark against India in Pune back in March.

The left-hander also made 76 in a recent Twenty20 victory over Sri Lanka and has showed he could merit a place in all formats. Crawley struggled in the Test series loss to New Zealand, yet he looked in good touch as he struck seven boundaries in a 50-ball innings.

Jordan Henderson hailed England's powers of recovery but warned there was "one more big push" required after victory over Denmark secured a place in the Euro 2020 final.

The Three Lions conceded their first goal of the tournament half an hour into Wednesday's semi-final, Mikkel Damsgaard thrashing a free-kick beyond Jordan Pickford.

However, they levelled the match up prior to half-time, forcing Simon Kjaer to put through his own net, before going on to secure a 2-1 win through Harry Kane in extra time.

Henderson was delighted with the way in which his team-mates responded to adversity to set up a final meeting with Italy.

"It was a good goal, a fantastic free-kick," he said of the opener. "But I thought the lads reacted really well, sometimes that happens in football. You are going to concede a goal but it is how you react after that and I thought the reaction was good.

"We managed to get ourselves back in the game pretty soon after that, so that was an important period in the game and we came through it well."

 

England's victory over Denmark earned them a first major tournament final appearance since lifting the World Cup in 1966.

But Henderson, a substitute early in extra time, is not content wih the team's achievement so far, and he wants to ensure Gareth Southgate's men clinch the trophy on Sunday.

"It means everything to us as a team and as a nation to be in a final for the first time in a long, long time," he told beIN Sports.

"It is an unbelievable feeling, but at the end of the day we haven't achieved anything yet, we've got to go one more big push to try and win it, recover well and focus on the next job in hand, a tough game against Italy.

"We know how good they are, it is a tough test for us but one that we are confident of going out there and putting in a good performance."

UEFA has charged Euro 2020 finalists England after Kasper Schmeichel had a laser pointer aimed at his face when facing Harry Kane's penalty at Wembley on Wednesday.

England were hit with three charges by the tournament organisers after supporters of Gareth Southgate's team overstepped the mark in the semi-final win over Denmark.

The 2-1 win after extra time at Wembley on Wednesday carried England through to their first major tournament final since the 1966 World Cup.

Amid jubilant scenes, however, there was cause for concern on UEFA's part.

 

Schmeichel managed to save Kane's spot-kick in the 104th minute, defying the laser distraction. He could not prevent the England captain blasting in on the rebound, however.

The England fans' booing of Denmark's national anthem was a distasteful moment, while UEFA has also taken issue with fireworks being set off at the ground.

In a statement, UEFA said: "Disciplinary proceedings have been opened following the UEFA Euro 2020 semi-final match between England and Denmark (2-1), played on July 7 at Wembley Stadium, London."

It listed the charges as: "Use of laser pointer by its supporters; disturbance caused by its supporters during the national anthem; lighting of fireworks by its supporters."

UEFA added: "The case will be dealt with by the UEFA control, ethics and disciplinary body in due course."

Harry Kane says for once it went England's way after scoring the winner in extra-time to book their place at the Euro 2020 final against Italy.

England won 2-1 over Denmark with Kane scoring an 104th-minute winner, firing home the rebound after his penalty was initially saved by Kasper Schmeichel.

The opportunity came after England were forced to come from behind following Mikkel Damsgaard's spectacular 30th-minute free-kick.

England equalised from a Simon Kjaer own goal prior to half-time, before Raheem Sterling won a penalty in extra-time after slight contact from Joakim Maehle.

The win secures England's first appearance at a European Championship final, after a history of inglorious failures and cruel exits at major events, headlined by Gareth Southgate's missed penalty at Euro 96 and Diego Maradona's 'Hand of God' goal at the 1986 World Cup.

"For once it went our way today," Kane told ITV. "Credit to the boys, what a performance.

"We responded really well to going 1-0 down, we controlled the game, dug deep in extra-time, got the penalty, and when it’s your night, it’s your night."

Kane would have felt a moment of panic as his penalty low to Schmeichel's left was saved by the Danish custodian, but the Tottenham forward had the opportunity to lash home from the loose ball.

"I chose the side I was going to go, it wasn't the best penalty I've ever taken," Kane told uefa.com. "Sometimes you miss and it falls your way, and thankfully it did today."

Kane reiterated manager Southgate's sentiment that there was one step to go as England seek to end their continental title wait.

The Three Lions will take on one-time winners Italy in Sunday's final at Wembley Stadium.

"We know it's going to be a very tough game against Italy," Kane said. "We've had a great tournament so far. One more game to go at home, and we can't wait."

Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger believes England's extra-time penalty in Wednesday's 2-1 Euro 2020 semi-final win over Denmark should not have been awarded.

Harry Kane scored England's 104th-minute winner, firing home the rebound after his spot-kick was initially saved by Denmark goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

Raheem Sterling won the penalty going down on the byline on the right side of the box under pressure from Joakim Maehle.

Sterling claimed post-game it was a "clear penalty" but Wenger - who is now FIFA's Chief of Global Football Development - disagreed, insisting the VAR should have summoned referee Danny Makkelie to look at the replay at least.

"No penalty. In a moment like that, I don’t understand why they [the VAR] didn't ask the referee to have a look at it to be clear," Wenger said on beIN SPORTS.

"In a moment like that it's important the referee is absolutely convinced it was a penalty. It was not clear enough to say 'yes it is'.

"He should've at least had a look at the screen. I don’t know why the VAR didn't ask him to go."

The 71-year-old former Arsenal boss did not go as far as saying the VAR had let down Denmark, labelling them "unfortunate".

"I think the VAR has let the referee down, not Denmark," Wenger said.

"Denmark is a bit unfortunate. It's difficult for the referee but he must have a look at it."

The penalty was the 17th awarded at Euro 2020, with Kane's initial effort becoming the eighth spot-kick missed.

Only 13 penalties were awarded in total in the group stages of the past three European Championships.

Last week, UEFA chief refereeing officer Robert Rosetti attributed VAR for the rise in penalties at this tournament.

England will play Italy in Sunday's Euro 2020 final at Wembley.

Gareth Southgate hailed the character of his England players after they came from behind to beat Denmark 2-1 in extra-time and book a place in the final of Euro 2020.

England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford was beaten for the first time in the tournament when Mikkel Damsgaard converted a stunning 30-yard free-kick.

That left Three Lions supporters fearing the worst – another major tournament semi-final disappointment to go alongside the loss Southgate's men suffered against Croatia at the 2018 World Cup.

But Denmark captain Simon Kjaer put through his own net under pressure from Raheem Sterling before half-time and, although mounting England pressure could not settle matters inside 90 minutes, the Manchester City forward won an extra-time penalty.

Kasper Schmeichel saved Harry Kane's spot-kick but the England skipper converted the rebound top send his country into their first major final since 1966.

"I'm so proud of the players. It’s an incredible occasion to be a part of, the fans were incredible all night," Southgate told ITV.

"We told the players that they would have to show resilience and come back from some setbacks, and we did that.

"I felt we would get over the line but knew we would have different sorts of battles. Denmark are so underrated as a team, they did cause us a lot of problems.

"When you have waited as long as we have to get through to a final, given the limited amount of international experience some of the players have, they have done an incredible job.

"The most pleasing thing is that we’ve given our fans and nation a fantastic night, and the journey carries on for another four days.

"For the team to come through this sort of a night… we suffered in Moscow on a night like this, we managed to put that right."

Italy await at Wembley on Sunday, with Southgate fully aware that Roberto Mancini's in-form side represent a formidable obstacle after they overcame Spain on penalties.

"We're in a final, we’ve got to enjoy that fact, but there is one more massive hurdle to try and conquer," he said.

"Italy are a very good side, they have really shown outstanding form, have defensive warriors at the back. It’s going to be a great game to look forward to."

Southgate added: "We've had three memorable games on the bounce. We said we wanted to create memories for our nation, now we’ve got to finish the job."

Kasper Hjulmand is confident Denmark will triumph at a major tournament after they suffered a semi-final exit to England at Euro 2020.

The Danes – who were rocked by Christian Eriksen's cardiac arrest in their opening game of their campaign – have garnered plenty of support throughout the tournament, but fell short in a 2-1 defeat to Gareth Southgate's team at Wembley on Wednesday.

Harry Kane tucked away a rebound after seeing a penalty, contentiously awarded for a foul on Raheem Sterling, saved by Kasper Schmeichel in extra-time.

It proved too much for Denmark, who took the lead through Mikell Damsgaard's excellent free-kick – the first direct free-kick goal of Euro 2020 – to come back from. Simon Kjaer's own goal, the first Denmark have scored at a European Championship, had dragged England level before half-time.

Though they ultimately fell at the penultimate hurdle, Hjulmand has nothing but pride for his team, and he feels success is just around the corner.

"Obviously, it's a big disappointment that we're so close to the final, and different circumstances during the match mean that we're not taking the last step," he told a news conference.

"It has been amazing what the boys have done. There's a fantastic power within these guys. They play football in a fantastic way.

"We've been attacking, scoring goals and showed our true selves. The players just went on with everything they have – both off and on the pitch.

"We have a team that saved the life of one of our players. I am very happy for our country, we have been a good team, a lot of love and we received support.

"We were emotional, we could have made it to the final, there will be new opportunities, I look to the future with hope. We can be proud of these kids!

"Our only disappointment is not reaching the final. We can achieve great success in a big tournament again."

Wednesday's encounter was the seventh game at Euro 2020 to go to extra-time, with the 1990 and 2014 World Cups the only major tournaments to reach that figure.

Sterling's energy ultimately proved the difference in that period, with the in-form Manchester City forward, who completed 10 dribbles in the game, finding a gap in Denmark's defence before drawing a foul from Joakim Maehle, one of the standout performers of Euro 2020.

The contact appeared to be minimal, but VAR did not overturn the decision from referee Danny Makkelie to award an England penalty.

"It bothers me to know that the penalty was not right," said Hjulmand, whose frustration was evident. "The players put in a lot of effort. We didn’t want to be eliminated like that."

England are through to their first European Championship final after recovering from a goal down to beat Denmark 2-1 after extra-time at Wembley on Wednesday.

Like Tuesday's semi-final between Italy and Spain, which the Azzurri won on penalties, the game in London could not be decided in the 90 minutes.

Mikkel Damsgaard had given Denmark the lead with a fine free-kick on the half-hour mark, but Simon Kjaer put into his own net before half-time and Harry Kane scored England's first extra-time goal since Euro 2004 to send the Three Lions through.

Following another dramatic contest in what has been an entertaining tournament, Stats Perform looks at the key data takeaways from Wednesday's action.

England's clean sheet record ended

Jordan Pickford set a record for the most minutes of any England keeper without conceding, overtaking Gordon Banks' previous best of 720 minutes between May and July 1966, but that impressive defensive streak was ended by Damsgaard soon after.

The Sampdoria winger scored the first direct free-kick of the tournament so far with an impressive effort that caught out Pickford, becoming the youngest Danish goalscorer in Euros knockout history at 21 years and four days.

 

Another own goal scored

In attempting to prevent Bukayo Saka's cross from being turned in by Raheem Sterling under the crossbar, Denmark skipper Kjaer put into his own net for the 11th own goal of Euro 2020 – two more than every other European Championship combined.

That was the first own goal England have benefitted from at the European Championships, but they could not push on and find a winner in normal time as the game went to an additional 30 minutes.

Kane the hero for England

With Denmark tiring and England turning the screw, the pressure told in the 104th minute when Sterling was brought down in the box by Joakim Maehle.

Kane's penalty was saved by Kasper Schmeichel, but the England skipper converted from the follow-up to make it 15 goals scored against the Danish keeper in his senior career – more than he has managed against any other stopper.

With that goal, Kane went level with Gary Lineker as the Three Lions' all-time leading scorer in major tournaments, six of those coming in the 2018 World Cup and the other four at this year's Euros.

 

Three Lions' long wait for a final over

Never before had England recovered from behind to win a Euros knockout match, while not since a 3-2 win over Cameroon in the 1990 World Cup quarter-finals had they done so in any major tournament.

Sunday will mark their first European Championship or World Cup final since 1966, with that 55-year gap the longest between final appearances in the history of the two competitions.

As for Denmark, they are the fifth side to both win three games and lose three games in the same edition of a Euros or World Cup after Yugoslavia (World Cup 1962), Austria (World Cup 1978), Bulgaria (World Cup 1994) and England (World Cup 2018).

 

 

Raheem Sterling claimed there was contact from Denmark's Joakim Maehle before he went to ground to win the decisive penalty in England's 2-1 European Championship semi-final victory.

The decision to award England a penalty after 102 minutes of play at Wembley stood up to a VAR check and Harry Kane had the spot-kick saved before he buried the rebound past Kasper Schmeichel.

Earlier, England had fallen behind to a superb long-range free-kick from Mikkel Damsgaard before Sterling forced an equaliser that went in off Simon Kjaer.

Sterling said he felt the decision to award the penalty in extra time was correct, telling ITV: "I went into the box, he stuck his right leg out and it touched my leg so it's a clear penalty.

"As long as it goes in the back of the net, that's all that matters."

Sterling has scored three times on England's route to the final at Wembley, where they will play Italy on Sunday evening.

The Manchester City forward said the experience of bouncing back after conceding their first goal of the tournament would stand England in good stead against Roberto Mancini's Azzurri.

"It was a top performance," said the 26-year-old. "We had to dig in deep. "It was the first time we conceded but we responded well and showed good spirit.

"We knew it would be difficult. We stayed patient and we knew the legs and aggressiveness we have in the team we'd be okay.

"It's another step in the right direction. We have to focus on the weekend now. It's step-by-step. We know what football means to this country. The energy, the atmosphere...it was top.

"Now we have Italy. We will celebrate a little bit then focus on Italy."

The dark horses fell at the penultimate fence.

Wembley Stadium on Wednesday was one step too far for Denmark. From that awful moment when Christian Eriksen collapsed, through two group defeats, a battering of Russia and Wales and Joakim Maehle's magic against the Czech Republic, Kasper Hjulmand's men have captivated fans at Euro 2020 more than any other side.

Against England, the brutal truth of football took over. Denmark were good, but just not good enough. The standout individual performances, the critical moments, the game management – they belonged to the Three Lions.

Fans should commiserate, of course, but they should celebrate, too, for what their team have produced in these past few weeks.

England had been the most resolute of all sides at these finals. Five games, five clean sheets – their best return at a major tournament. They had not let in a goal since March. Midway through the first half against Denmark, Jordan Pickford broke Gordon Banks' record of 720 minutes without conceding.

It was likely to take something special to break that run. Barely 60 seconds later, it duly arrived.

Mikkel Damsgaard, 21 years old, unleashed a sensational, dipping free-kick from more than 30 yards out that flew past Pickford's despairing grasp. It was the first direct free-kick scored at these finals and the eighth direct goal involvement the Sampdoria man – who is sure to attract interest from across the continent – had managed in seven starts for his country.

Damsgaard served up a moment worthy of the stage, of the exceptional tournament Hjulmand's men have had.

It was unfortunate then to concede an equaliser via captain Simon Kjaer, his desperate lunge to stop Raheem Sterling scoring a tap-in only sending the ball into the unguarded net. Perhaps Schmeichel could have done more to cut out Bukayo Saka's cross, though Sterling would have scored a minute earlier but for a mighty block from the Leicester City goalkeeper.

 

Schmeichel has enjoyed trips to Wembley this year. On May 15, Leicester lifted the FA Cup thanks to two moments of stupendous quality against Chelsea: Youri Tielemans' goal, and Schmeichel's fingertip save from Mason Mount. He repeated the trick here, flying to his right to claw away a Harry Maguire header and stopping Kane's goalbound low strike on the stretch in the second half.

You began to sense that, if penalties came, Schmeichel might prove the hero. When he finally faced one, he did indeed keep it out – but the rebound fell at Kane's feet for the easiest Wembley goal he will ever score. He still made a last-second save to deny Sterling at the end of extra time, as if to remind us of his real quality.

There is never a good way to lose a semi-final, but this 2-1 loss felt cruel on Denmark. England deserved to win the match, that's certainly true, but Schmeichel did not deserve to lose. Captain Kjaer, a hero in the truest sense when Eriksen's life was in danger, should never have been the man to score an own goal in his country's biggest game in 29 years.

When it comes to results, elite football can be a harsh place. But events like these are also about the journey, and Denmark's at these finals has been one to remember.

John Stones extended his arm and held up a palm. Stop. Breathe.

It was time for Jordan Pickford to calm down. No time for bedlam.

The Everton goalkeeper headed into Wednesday's Euro 2020 semi-final encounter with Denmark in superb form, yet to be beaten in the tournament.

In the 27th minute at Wembley, Pickford moved on to 720 minutes without conceding a goal for England, breaking a record set by the great Gordon Banks between May and July 1966. We all know how that tournament ended and how none have ended like it in the 55 years and four semi-final defeats since.

But by the time Pickford pouched that piece of history, events had already started to turn.

After Kalvin Phillips erred to allow a shot from Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Pickford frantically sought to launch an attack - his distribution often such a plus for Gareth Southgate. He hurled the ball straight at Mikkel Damsgaard, who understandably seemed a little surprised by that.

A passage of gasping, pulse-quickening mistakes ended with Martin Braithwaite having a shot deflected behind for a corner. England emerged unscathed but robbed entirely of their early poise.

Damsgaard, Braithwaite and Kasper Dolberg were finding pockets of space all across the turf, with England's plan for snuffing out Denmark's lightning breaks apparently amounting to little more than Kyle Walker being terrifyingly fast. He's terrifyingly brilliant, too, but still...

Too much was passing England's defensive midfield block by. Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips did not make a tackle between them in the first half. Tottenham's Hojbjerg, patrolling central areas expertly alongside Thomas Delaney, snapped into five all by himself.

Rice was caught napping by Dolberg, who was brought down by Mason Mount. That's what friends are for.

A relatively unthreatening free-kick became a threatening one as Luke Shaw wrapped his arms around Andreas Christensen defending the initial set-piece. From 30 yards, Damsgaard creamed a delightful strike beyond Pickford, who will think he should have done better.

 

In calmer times, perhaps he would. Then there was further skittishness, prompting centre-back Stones to intervene.

Contrary to Pickford's need to slow down, England's best moments came when they dared Denmark to find a solution to Bukayo Saka's quicksilver pace and Raheem Sterling's restless, relentless, intelligent movement.

Sterling started the game tearing mercilessly after the right-hand side of the Danish defence. He should have done better after cutting inside Christensen and scuffing a shot too close to Kasper Schmeichel.

A scuff would have done the job in the 38th minute, when Sterling met Saka's low cross sweetly and Schmeichel saved improbably. But the seed was planted – more ice-cool work in behind from Saka, more scrambled brains as Sterling made a nuisance of himself, with the result an own goal for skipper Simon Kjaer.

The contest continued in that vein throughout the second half, when whichever side found themselves on the backfoot appeared to be operating in a state of anguish. The occasion simultaneously fuelled its protagonists and threatened to blow up in their faces. Pickford saved sharply from Dolberg, unaware of the offside flag

Into the final 20 minutes of normal time and the highest stakes elite football was operating under park rules: next goal wins. Southgate's team are gloriously unburdened by England's tragicomic history. But no footballer with a pulse would be unburdened by such a present.

Jack Grealish was on but Kasper Hjulmand used his bench more boldly, sending on Yussuf Poulsen and Christian Norgaard for the impressive Damsgaard and Dolberg. Or was it more desperately, as Rice and Phillips (95.2 and 90.2 per cent pass completion) emerged from choppy waters to gradually exert control and wrestle the opponents deeper.

Six minutes of stoppage time: would you even dare? Sterling still asked questions of defenders with no remaining appetite for such trivia. Fouls piled up, bodies were on the line. This was how England tended to conclude big knockout games but Denmark reached the sanctuary of full-time.

 

Still Southgate kept his talent-stacked bench sheathed. Harry Kane fired towards Schmeichel on the angle. No one was there for the rebound. Fresh legs might have been.

And so, they arrived. Phil Foden instantly schemed with bad intentions, briefly lifting kindred-spirit Grealish in the process.

Sterling still schemed with bad intentions and found himself lying at the feet of Jannik Vestergaard, which felt mocking because the hulking centre-back looked like the biggest, tiredest man in the whole world.

The Manchester City forward was on the floor due to some combination of contact from Joakim Maehle and Mathias Jensen. Danny Makkelie ruled it was enough for a penalty.

Stop. Breathe.

Saved? No problem. Harry Kane never needs to calm down with a loose ball and a goal in front of him.

2-1. It was time for bedlam.

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