Gareth Southgate has said England deserved to make the Euro 2020 final – despite Denmark’s manager claiming Harry Kane’s crucial penalty shouldn’t have been given.
England triumphed 2-1 after extra time thanks to Kane’s goal and had the lion’s share of the chances.
They now face Italy – who have been unbeaten for nearly three years – at Wembley on Sunday for the chance to win their first major tournament since 1966.
Southgate praised the Danes for an “incredible tournament” and said they had made things “really difficult” for England, but insisted his players had earned their place in the final.
The England manager said: “We were so smooth through the quarter-final and relatively unscathed through the second round.
“We knew that at some point we were going to concede and we would have to respond.
“Denmark have had an incredible tournament. I have got to give them huge credit.
“But I think on the balance of play when you look at the number of saves we forced the goalkeeper to make and long periods of the game where I felt we were the biggest threat, I think we deserved it.”
Denmark briefly silenced the home fans when they took the lead with a sensational first-half free kick, but England levelled up when Saka’s cross went in off Denmark’s captain.
The crucial point came in extra time – Raheem Sterling judged to have been tripped in the area and VAR confirmed the penalty decision.
Kane stepped up, but his spot kick was easily saved by Kasper Schmeichel. Luckily for the England skipper, the rebound fell kindly for him to fire home.
Denmark’s manager, Kasper Hjulmand, called it a “bitter” blow and said the penalty “shouldn’t have been a penalty and it’s something that annoys me right now”.
England’s Marcus Rashford paid tribute to Denmark’s impressive run, which came after Christian Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest in their opening match – a moment which seemed to galvanise the team.
He tweeted: “I’m not sure how I would have reacted to seeing my teammate in such difficulty. You captured everyone’s heart and I’m sure @ChrisEriksen8 is extremely proud of what you have achieved. Heads held high. Im sure we’ll see you soon @DBUfodbold.”
England fans weren’t questioning the penalty however, and around the country there were wild celebrations and a shower of air-bound beverages as the Three Lions secured their first shot at international glory for 55 years.
In London’s Piccadilly Circus people were pictured on top of buses, while euphoria in the Trafalgar Square fan zone rivalled the celebrations inside Wembley seven miles away.
The match also saw goalkeeper Jordan Pickford beat the record of 1966 World Cup hero Gordon Banks, surpassing his 720 minutes without conceding a goal by just a few minutes when Denmark finally broke his resistance.
England fans will now be excitedly making plans for the final and dreaming of a moment that’s taken more than half a century to become reality.
But captain Harry Kane has said it’s important to remain focused and that the team “haven’t won anything yet”.
“Of course there’s always that feeling in the back of your mind that you’ve got one more to go, so we don’t want to get too carried away,” said the striker – who’s now scored four in the tournament.
He added: “It’s going to be an amazing occasion and I’m extremely proud leading the boys out in any game, no matter making history and getting to our first final.
“As the game gets closer I’m sure the excitement and nerves will kick in. It will be a special day but there will be a winner and a loser and we have to make sure we are on that winning side.”
Italy are likely to easily be England’s toughest test – the Azzurri are now 33 matches unbeaten following their semi-final penalty shoot-out win over Spain.
They have been impressive since day one and Robert Mancini, who coached Manchester City to the Premier League title, has rejuvenated the side since he took over.
But Italy, who last won the World Cup 15 years ago, are set to be heavily outnumbered in terms of fans at Wembley.
Apart from UK-based Italy supporters, only a maximum of 1,000 are to be allowed to travel due to COVID restrictions.
A special deal will limit their fans to 12 hours on UK soil, according to Italian football authorities, with special charter flights and transport laid on to get them to the stadium.
They must also give negative COVID tests before and after the journey and isolate for five days when they return to Italy.