England have the chance to reach a first major final since their 1966 World Cup triumph when they take on Denmark at Wembley in Wednesday’s Euro 2020 semi-final, but they will need to banish a history of stumbling at this stage.
Gareth Southgate’s side were impressive in their 4-0 dismantling of Ukraine in Rome on Saturday, heralding a wave of euphoria in the country as media showered the team in praise.
England fans need no reminder, however, that their team have lost four major semi-finals since Alf Ramsey’s team’s title.
Southgate has been keen to keep the burden of history out of his team’s thinking. If he needs a way to bring his players back down to earth before the semi-final, he does not have to look back far for a warning against complacency.
An England side containing ten of the current squad faced Denmark at Wembley in October in a Nations League match and lost 1-0 to a Christian Eriksen penalty.
Eriksen, who is recovering from the shocking cardiac episode he suffered as he collapsed in Denmark’s opening Euro game, will not feature at Wembley of course.
But Kasper Hjulmand’s side, who beat the Czech Republic 2-1 in their quarter-final, will be largely the same as the one which left London with three points eight months ago.
The lessons from that game are limited by the fact that England played almost an hour with ten men after Harry Maguire was sent off in the 31st minute – but that in itself is a reminder of the way a moment of indiscipline can swing a game.
Maguire looks rock solid at the moment as part of an England defence which has yet to concede a goal in the tournament.
And with Harry Kane back to scoring form with three goals in the two knockout stage games, England look to be peaking at the right moment.
There was, however, a similar feeling among England fans after they beat Sweden in the last eight of the World Cup three years ago in Russia only to fall to Croatia in the semi.
“Now we’ve replicated what we did there, but that won’t be enough to fulfil the group,” said Southgate, who knows that the national mood would change sharply if his team stumble at the same stage this time.
Denmark’s performances in this tournament, where they have responded to the Eriksen trauma in such inspiring fashion, should also keep England focused.
The Danes got out of Group B with a rousing 4-1 win over Russia in Copenhagen before thrashing Wales 4-0 in Amsterdam.
In the quarter-final they beat a well-organised Czech side 2-1 in the heat of Baku.
Much of the focus on Denmark has been on the way the team has come together and fought so well after the shocking scenes against Finland, with Southgate noting they are “riding a wave of emotion”, but they have been much more than battlers.
Hjulmand’s team have a clear structure and method to their play which has earned them their place in the last four.
In attack, Martin Braithwaite creates the spaces which Mikkel Damsgaard and Kasper Dolberg have exploited well and there is a threat from attacking wing backs Jens Stryger Larsen and the excellent Joakim Maehle.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Thomas Delaney are a firm presence in the centre of midfield while the back line in front of goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel has been solid.
Unbeaten England though start as clear favourites with a stronger squad and home advantage and the fear that has gripped them in previous campaigns refreshingly absent so far.
Spain or Italy, who play in Tuesday’s other semi, await the winner in Sunday’s final at Wembley.