The semi-finals of Euro 2020 were full of drama and heart, as Italy and England progressed to the final.
Italy beat Spain in a penalty shootout that saw Spanish players Dani Olmo and Álvaro Morata go from heroes to villains. In England’s match against Denmark, they were finally able to break through their 55 year old semi-final ceiling at major tournaments, reaching their first final since 1966. Here is our quick semi-final recap.
ITALY 1 –1 SPAIN (PK: 4-2)
After keeping their nerve during the penalty shootout, Italy reached the final in their normal Azzurri style. This was good revenge for the way Spain thrashed them 4-0 in the Euro 2012 finals it seems, and now, Mancini’s side has a chance to clinch the Euros for his nation for the first time since 1968.
Both Mancini of Italy and Luis Enrique of Spain made changes to their teams, though Italy’s change seems to have been somewhat forced because of Spinazzola’s injury against Belgium.
Spain absolutely dominated the first half, but Italy’s Chiesa scored first through a counter-attack in the 60th minute. Morata came off the bench to equalize for Spain only twenty minutes later. After 34 minutes of extra time, the one-all tie could not be broken, giving way to an intense penalty shootout that saw Italy win the match and secure their final spot.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Spain spent the first half pounding at goal, barely letting Italy get a chance. Two amazing attempts before half time by ‘La Roja’ only served to establish their dominance, while Italy could only manage a shot that hit the bar.
In the second half, Spain made an attempt to score, but it was seamlessly stopped by Italian keeper Donnarumma. He then set off the counterattack, with Immobile picking out a free Chiesa who curled his shot around Unai Simon into the far bottom corner.
As soon as the goal happened, Enrique quickly made a change to turn the tie around, bringing on Juventus striker Alvaro Morata. The decision, met with thunderous applause, proved a good one, when he converted a pass from Dani Olmo into the Italian goal 20 minutes later. Neither team were able to score again in full time, nor the extra 30 minutes of the game. This meant that to break the tie, a penalty shootout began, with the two captains joking (particularly Chiellini) with each other during the coin toss for the penalty.
Italy went first. Locatelli stepped up with obvious nervousness in his stance and fear in his eyes. His hit was stopped by Simon. Next came Spain’s Dani Olmo, who completely missed the goal, the ball flying high and left.
Belotti stepped up next and coverted into the bottom left corner, possibly giving Locatelli some comfort. Moreno then scored for Spain by a high shot with his left foot to keep up his impressive penalty run. Italy’s Bonucci put his shot right in the center of the net, Thiago coolly stepped up to slide the ball into the net and Bernadeschi responded by smashing the ball top right. At this point, on Spain’s fourth penalty attempt, goal-scorer Álvaro Morata stepped up to the plate, only to have his weak attempt saved by Donnarumma. The blood visibly drained from his face as the realization hit that if Italy scored, they would be through. Jorginho then stepped up and the rest was history. Italy were sent through to the final, via the coolest penalty of the day from the man with ice cold Chelsea blue veins. The blue jerseys of Italy’s team blurred into one as they piled onto each other and celebrated with their manager. Spain could only look on in sadness, as the match they had in their control fizzled out of their grasp.
ENGLAND 2-1 DENMARK
Again at Wembley, England faced Denmark on the night of July 7, 2021, a special day on the calendar and in the hearts of England nationals — and their supporters everywhere. The Three Lions broke a 55-year dry spell by winning their semi-final match and reaching the final. The Danish defenders stood tall and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel put on a clinic, but it wasn’t enough to stop England’s rampaging Raheem Sterling and co. England scraped out an impressive ten attempts to Denmark’s three, along with carrying the bulk of the possession. They were determined to score and were rewarded for their efforts.
It can be argued, however, that they shouldn’t have been awarded that penalty, as there was too little contact, some even calling it a dive. But Harry Kane converted, and only gave confidence to the 52,000+ hopeful England fans in the stadium, which included Prince William and David Beckham.
HOW IT HAPPENED
England were on top throughout the game, but they weren’t able to break down the towering Danish defense. In a 3-4-3 formation, the Danes put strong focus on their front line’s three strikers. They properly managed the midfield with their four midfielders, who were spread widely. But taking on a more defensive approach, they were very narrow in both attack and defense and couldn’t break England’s 4-2-3-1 down. England played wide and kept attacking from the sides, to which Denmark could not adequately cope with. This forced Danish midfielders to drop back into defensive positions more frequently than they would have liked, leading to too many bodies in the Denmark box for their own good.
21-year-old Mikkel Damsgaard scored the first goal of the match in the thirtieth minute, after one blocked, though arguably weak attempt by Kane. The visitors’ deserved lead from the stunning free kick was the first direct free kick scored at the tournament, and England’s first goal conceded at the tournament.
Moments after a blocked free kick from Sterling, Simon Kjær. proceeded to score an own goal, the eleventh in the tournament. England’s Bukayo Saka cut open Denmark’s defense down the right flank and the 19-year-old delivered a beautiful cross into the middle of the box, which Raheem Sterling would have tapped in had it not been for Kjær’s last minute attempt to clear it away.
The intensity of the game continued into the second half, with both teams trying to break the hold. It took until extra time for the main talking point to take place – Sterling’s penalty win to send England through to the next round. Just moments before the penalty call, Sterling went down near the box in what looked like a penalty. The next time he went down, it was by a mix of Maehle and Jensen, when they tried to stop the speedy English striker at the bottom of the box. Albeit minimal, contact seems to have occurred and though Kane missed the penalty with a poor effort, Schmeichel pushed the ball out with his palms back out towards Kane who fired in the rebound in the 104th minute.
England continued to torment Denmark during the remaining minutes of extra time, and Denmark tried to fire some back as well. Their efforts though, while good, didn’t do anything for the already distraught players or their fans who probably wondered if it would have been different had Christian Eriksen been able to play.
And so the teams facing each other in the final of the Euro 2020 competition on the 11th of July will be Italy and England. The final comes three years after Italy watched the World Cup from home, missing out for the first time in 60 year. Italy have now reminded the world what they are truly made of by reaching the finals. England for their part have made modern history by reaching an international final for the first time since 1966.
The words of the song “It’s Coming Home” have never seemed more real to England fans, and the chants of “Forza Italia” will probably be heard over and over for the next couple of days. For more on the match be sure to see our tactical preview. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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A ‘Wide Warrior’ is a full-back who hasn’t quite kept up with the modern trends associated with their position. Rather than relying on attacking threat and potency to make their name, the ‘Wide Warrior’ continues to be an ever-present at the back, doing their best work closer to goal. They excel at the defensive side of the game above all else, even if they may offer certain advantages going forward (like a wing-back), or in half-spaces (like an inverted fullback). Further, not only do they excel at the defensive side of the game, their manager has made clear intentions for that to be the most important facet of their role within the team, restricting their attacking height.