A penalty. In extra time. The England captain misses. Déjà vu? A fraction of a second after pushing his spot kick too close to the outstretched Kasper Schmeichel, Harry Kane slams the rebound into the net to take England past Denmark 2-1 and into the final of Euro 2020.
Italy stand between the Three Lions and a trophy after 55 years, but the Kane goal has helped salve the sores of several setbacks.
Almost 60,000 supporters at the Wembley Stadium leapt to their feet chanting So Good, So Good, So Good, the chorus of Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, none more so than England manager Gareth Southgate, whose own penalty miss in the semi-final of Euro 96 cost England a place in that final.
“We’ve given our fans and our nation a fantastic night and the journey carries on for another four days,” Southgate said.
“We’ve said we want to create memories ... I’ve said to the young ones (players) ‘it isn’t always like this’.”
Whether it was that 1996 Euro loss to Germany on this same Wembley pitch, or the World Cup penalty shootout defeat at the hands of Argentina in St Etienne 1998, or heartbreak against the Germans in the 1990 World Cup semi-finals in Turin, England fans the length and breadth of the country have penalty horror stories to recount.
Not this time. And if their winning of the penalty — Raheem Sterling maximised Joakim Maehle’s minimal contact — was debatable, the victory was not. England were the better side, especially in the second half.
England will also have to better this performance on Sunday if they are to get past Italy. Roberto Mancini’s side has much defensive resilience embodied by Giorgio Chiellini, and street-smart play encapsulated by Jorginho.
But England also showed resilience and a commitment to attack against Denmark. They fought back from Mikkel Damsgaard’s wonderful free-kick that put the Danes ahead. They pressed on, and cornered Denmark into conceding an own goal. They kept attacking, as the Danes fell back and became extra-defensive in the second half.
“We dug deep and we got there when it mattered. We reacted really well — we’re in a final at home, what a feeling,” Kane said after the match.
He led by example, taking the tackles, showing for the ball, linking, occasionally threatening.
The Danes did put up a fight though. No team has had a more draining tournament than Denmark in the wake of Christian Eriksen’s cardiac arrest; that it was here still, after all it has endured, deserved a more rousing finale than this.
With every block, every attack repelled, every opportunity lost, England’s memories stirred; they could feel fresh scars starting to form. Schmeichel, the Danish goalkeeper and son of Manchester United legend Peter, seemed to have decided to mount a one-man campaign to break English hearts. The clock ticked inexorably on, beyond 90 minutes, into extra time. But this time, time was on England’s side.
The Lions are going to the last stop on this rollicking, riveting journey of dream-fulfilment. For England fans, good times never felt so good.
Written with inputs from NYTNS and Reuters