They answered that question, but could they handle the rigours of extra-time? That was answered emphatically with a performance of maturity, direction and intelligence.
This was epitomised from minute 117 to 119 when they saw out the game with a spell of passing – that totalled 54 passes – befitting a team at the top of their game..
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There had been speculation that Southgate may switch to a back three for the test of Denmark. However, the England manager stuck with the 4-2-3-1 formation that brought four goals against Ukraine.
There was a slight switch in personnel, with Bukayo Saka taking the spot of Jadon Sancho on the right of the advanced midfield three.
However, when attacking, that advanced trio pushed right up, making it a 4-2-4. England wanted to control not just the ball but also territory and they did that for large swathes of the game.
TALKING POINT – A connection renewed
England and its fans have had – at times – a tumultuous relationship. It is perhaps Gareth Southgate’s greatest achievement that there is now a renewed connection between the national team and its fans.
It is – obviously – an intangible but that renewed connection underpinned the ferocity with which they chased the equaliser and then the winner. Every wave of attack was met with a wall of noise and, remarkably for modern football, the fans also showed patience when the ebb and flow of the game was not to their liking or in England’s favour.
Pickford – 6: He was not as assured as he has been for England lately but – largely – did what was needed of him.
Walker – 8: The 31-year-old had been excellent defensively all tournament and was exactly that again here.
Stones – 7 : Denmark rarely asked questions of him but he was solid when required, and set attacks in motion from deep.
Maguire – 8: The Manchester United centre-half missed the first two matches of the tournament due to injury. Yet, he was probably the sharpest player on the pitch. He sets the tone from the back.
Shaw – 7: The difference he has made to this England side is palpable. He has an excellent understanding with club colleague Maguire and City rival Sterling. His presence makes England a far more fluid outfit.
Phillips – 8: The Yorkshire Pirlo played in an advanced role and at times found it difficult to evade the attentions of Delaney early on. But always showed for the ball and snapped into tackles where required; his influence grew as the game developed, and he began to set the tempo.
Rice – 7: Got a round of applause from Maguire after he had harried and harassed Denmark just after England had levelled. He was dogged throughout and always on the front foot.
Sterling – 9: His future at Manchester City is inexplicably in doubt. Yet, he has never let that affect him – it speaks to his remarkable mental strength. And it was Sterling who drove England forward after they went behind, jinking and probing the Three Lions up the pitch. The goal will go down to as own goal but he was, once again, exactly where he needed to be when England needed him to be there. Won the penalty with a typically positive run for the winner. What a footballer.
Mount – 6: A menace of a player who pops up all over the pitch whether in a defensive or attacking sense.
Saka – 8: The 19-year-old was not as influential as he was against Czech Republic but he played a crucial role in pinning Denmark back with his high starting position and, of course, set up the equaliser.
Kane – 8 This was his best all-round performance of the tournament; dropped deep and played with his head on a swivel. The complete forward did a complete job on Denmark. Missed the penalty but followed it up as cool as you like. Has also reached god-level ability to win free-kicks and is one goal off the Golden Boot.
Grealish – 6: Entered the fray to the reception of the cultural icon he has become and then immediately won a free-kick as he does. Was bright but was subbed for Trippier – more to follow on that.
Henderson – 7: Injected an energy and fizz to England’s play.
Foden – 6: An absolute dream of a footballer to bring on in any circumstance. Worked hard and knitted things together. Also his delivery from set pieces added another dimension.
Trippier – 7: Added an element of control that Southgate wanted.
England are in a final of a major tournament. And deservedly so. They have answered every question that has been posed of them. Gareth Southgate’s appointment was broadly met with indifference but what a job he has done. This felt like a coming of age performance.
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