Euro 2020: England move one step closer to scratching 55-year itch

Winning a high-stakes knockout match in an international football tournament requires a number of factors to go in your favor. An often underestimated and discounted factor is luck. The best teams will have a lucky break from time to time that often determines their fate going forward. That moment came for England in the Euro 2020 semi-final against Denmark.

The match finished 1–1 and England, who completely dominated the second half of the match before extra time but had nothing to show for it, once again advanced.

Raheem Sterling breaks the line and reaches the penalty area where he is fouled by Joakim Mahele. The referee blew his whistle and pointed to the spot. The Danish players were unbelievable. Contact felt minimal at best.

But crucially, there was contact. This is why a VAR investigation found no clear and obvious error on the part of the on-field referee. The decision was upheld.

Let’s take a minute here to mention the ambiguity that exists in the interpretation of the rules. Yes, that call could have gone either way as the referee is allowed to determine degree Contacted.

That ambiguity can often lead to a different interpretation of the rules. Another referee might have waved play, assuming the contact was minimal – and he would have been correct.

But, as luck would have it, this time the verdict went in favor of England. But wait, that was not all. Kane, usually a confident penalty taker, fired a weak shot past Kasper Schmeichel to the right. As it turned out, England’s luck was not yet over.

The Dane only crossed the ball straight to Kane, who pounced on the opportunity to slam home the rebound. England were next, and there they would stay for the remainder of the night.

England want to go all the way at Euro 2020

The raucous celebration of the English fans and players forgave the spectators for thinking that the deed was already done. Yet, as England and Gareth Southgate know, there is still one final hurdle to cross.

English football has a long and storied history of overachieving domestically, but underachieving internationally.

The Premier League is the most popular domestic football league in the world, and a number of English clubs have won European honours. Hell, the current Champions League holders are even English.

Yet he has struggled in international tournaments. No Olympic gold, no European Championships – and just one World Cup, back in 1966.

Incidentally, that home World Cup was the last time England made it to the final of a major tournament, 55 years ago. Thus, in that context, the relief and joy from the semi-final win against the weak underdogs Denmark is understandable.

But the real test is now. England’s road to the Euro 2020 final has been a fun ride, but as the old saying goes, the better the ending of a movie.

And the final chapter of this tale sees them coming up against a formidable foe that is undergoing a mini renaissance of its own – Italy.

The final will be as much a battle of wills as it will be about strategy. Italy not only went through extra time but required a penalty shoot-out to defeat a valiant Spain. There will be tired legs on both sides.

Yet it is also worth noting that Italy has won a lot of tournaments on the international stage. They are four-time world champions, one-time European champions and as recently as 2012 reached the final of the Euros.

For England, the motivation is different.

Can the England Football Team Break the Duck?

The 2000s have been all about English international teams in sports coming up with the times and winning. The England men’s rugby team won the Rugby World Cup in 2003 and were runners-up in 2019.

The same year the rugby team finished second, the men’s cricket team broke their long-standing World Cup stranglehold, beating New Zealand in the final so closely that they would never top it again.

The England football team is in a similar mold. There is talent, and always has been. It’s just a matter of getting the best out of the individuals – as a team.

The men’s soccer team has so far shown signs of doing the same. Now they are one step away from writing a new chapter in the history of English football.

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