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England inspired by expectation, but Denmark stand determined

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LONDON: England are shouldering rising expectations. Denmark are powered by resilience and recovery.

And emotions will be high at Wembley Stadium before their Euro 2020 semi-final even kicks off on Wednesday when there will be a moment to remember the tournament’s most harrowing incident and the player who won’t be playing for Denmark.

The England squad have signed a No. 10 jersey emblazoned with Christian Eriksen’s name that will be handed to Denmark captain Simon Kjaer by England counterpart Harry Kane.

The England players were on a bus traveling to London from their training base to prepare for their opening game of Euro 2020 on June 12 when Eriksen collapsed on the field while playing against Finland. He had to be resuscitated with a defibrillator.

“We saw it on the screens,” said England defender Kieran Trippier, a former team-mate of Eriksen’s at Tottenham Hotspur. “I was close with Christian. The most important thing is he is getting better.”

Perhaps what is most remarkable is that while Eriksen recovers from his cardiac arrest, Denmark have managed to reach the semi-finals for the first time since unexpectedly winning the European Championship in 1992.

“These last four weeks have been the emotions of a lifetime,” Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand said. “We’ve been facing death in a way I never hoped I should.”

After losing the opening two games including the Finland match that resumed that day the Danes looked on the verge of elimination. But they got used to the formation switch from 4-2-3-1 to 3-4-3 and beat Russia in their final group game to advance before ousting Wales and the Czech Republic to set up the meeting with England.

Kasper Dolberg has scored three goals, Pierre-Emile Hjbjerg has been excellent in midfield and Kasper Schmeichel has provided leadership even beyond his saves in goal.

“With everything that we’ve been going through from the first game to where we are now is quite remarkable,” Denmark midfielder Christian Norgaard said. “We had to pinch ourselves in the arms sometimes to realise what we’ve achieved.”

That, to some degree, was the sense in the England squad at the 2018 World Cup when the team reached the semi-finals despite little being expected of them under coach Gareth Southgate.

Now that they are back in another semi-final having also lost in the last four of the inaugural UEFA Nations League there is a sense that England have to deliver in a way they haven’t since their 1966 World Cup triumph.

“We’ve made a real good progression over the years,” Trippier said. “I spoke to some of the younger lads before the tournament and said, Have no fears. Enjoy it because they are only around every couple of years these tournaments.”

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 an Eriksen penalty.

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.

Published in Dawn, July 7th, 2021

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