The EURO 2020 Semi-finals were nail biting affairs of elite level football. Extra-time, penalty shoot-outs and controversial decisions the games had everything. Italy vs Spain and England vs Denmark both at Wembley Stadium, here we review those matches.
ITALY 1-1 SPAIN AET (ITALY WIN ON PENS)
Italy cemented their place in the European Championship final after 120 minutes of football and an intense penalty shoot-out. Goals from Federico Chiesa (Italy) and Alvaro Morata (Spain) had the game level before Olmo, Morata and Locatelli all missed their penalties with Italy progressing. The Azzuri were firm favourites going into the match but Spain manager Luis Enrique adopted a surprising tactical switch up in which he played a false nine system without a recognised striker. Roberto Mancini remained consistent with the only change he made being Chelsea’s Emerson replacing the impressive but injured Spinazzola.
(Italy celebrate their win on penalties: Getty Images)
The freedom in movement of the three Spanish forwards caused problems for the experienced Italian backline showing they’re fallible, something for England to take note of in preparation for the final. 18-year-old midfielder Pedri took control of the game with an impressive display, the youngster completing 100% of his passes, a performance which saw his manager Enrique compare him to Spain Euro and World Cup winning legend Andreas Iniesta. Much like his predecessor, Pedri found pockets of space beyond the Italian midfield, kept the ball moving and frustrated the opposition.
(Pedri skips past the challenge of Verratti: Getty Images)
Mancini’s men were forced to defend and take their chances to counter-attack much like the Italy of old rather than their new high intensity pressing style. Chiesa was their biggest threat, his curling finish ultimately gave them the lead but his pace and directness was a threat all night, he helped his team progress up the pitch on the very few occasions they were capable.
Spain will rue their missed chances, 16 shots with only five on target, Olmo and Oyarzabal both failing in front of goal multiple times. Despite Enrique’s tactical success in stifling the threats of the Azzuri it wasn’t until he brought Alvaro Morata on the pitch before his team found the back of the net, perhaps if the forward started they may have been the team returning to Wembley. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
ENGLAND 2-1 DENMARK AET
It took extra-time for England to secure their place at a first major final since the 1966 World Cup when they defeated West Germany 4-2 at Wembley. Home soil was the place for success once again with 67,000 inside the stadium sent into bedlam when Harry Kane scored a rebound after his penalty was saved. Denmark opened the scoring in the match through the talented youngster Mikkel Damsgaard’s free-kick but the Three Lions were back on level terms soon after as Bukayo Saka’s cross was diverted into his own net by Simon Kjaer.
(England fans celebrate at Wembley: Getty Images)
Gareth Southgate’s side struggled in the midfield battle at times and relied upon the pace and great footwork of Raheem Sterling for ball retention. It was the Manchester City winger who caused Denmark problems throughout the 90 minutes and beyond, he found space in behind the attacking wing-backs of the Dane’s before running through their midfield and at the backline. The space that was created from the wide play of England allowed the midfield of Mason Mount, Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice to find their feet in the game after a slow start in which Kasper Hjulmand’s pressing style had caused some problems for the home team without ever troubling the goal from open play.
Denmark’s three experienced centre backs were resolute in defence with Kasper Schmeichel in inspired form between the posts. England had to find different ways to create problems for them, Harry Kane dropped deep on several occasions to release the wide players, giving Saka and Sterling even more space to burst into the box, the two wingers the creators of both the goals.
(Raheem Sterling wins England a penalty: Getty Images)
Despite controversy around the awarding of the penalty for a foul on Sterling and a laser pointer from the crowd being shone in Schmeichel’s eyes the Three Lions deserved the victory. Gareth Southgate has dealt with all the tactical problems he has faced so far but next is a new challenge in the form of Roberto Mancini’s Italy. If he can get it right one more time, he will bring football home for the first time in 55 years.