Euro 2020 Semi Final Preview

So here we are then. Three years after reaching the semi final of a World Cup for the first time since 1966, we’re in the semi finals of the Euros for the first time since 1996.

I’m afraid I’m going to have to sound a note of caution though.┬áIncluding the clash in September 1979 – so long ago I was a teenager – there have been seven games between us and the Danes at Wembley. We’ve won five of the seven clashes but lost the most recent clash (last November in the Nations League – a pretty eventful game) but the goal statistics are astonishing: we’ve never scored more than one goal against them at Wembley, all seven matches have finished 1-0. The last team we beat Denmark at Wembley was in March 2014 when Messers Henderson, Sterling and Shaw all played, with Luke Shaw entering the fray as a substitute for Ashley Cole – who never played for England again.

Denmark

All the stats in this section cover their last ten games ie including their 2-0 win over Israel in the World Cup qualifiers in March until the win over the Czechs in the quarter finals.

By now everyone should be aware of what happened to Christian Eriksen in their first game in the Euros and it’ll be argued that losing arguably their best player in such extreme circumstances is what caused the Danes to lose their first two games. However, the nature of their momentum since then seems to indicate that they may not have needed him: that seems like a harsh position to take, but I don’t think anyone apart from the Danes themselves thought they’d do as well as this before the competition started.

However, one aspect of history is very much against them. Since the tournament introduced a group stage in 1980, no team that eventually reached the final began it with two defeats – even the supposedly underprepared Danish team that won Euro 1992 only lost once, a defeat in the group stages by their Swedish hosts. The defeats to Finland and Belgium have been their only losses in the ten game period mentioned above.

Of the five clean sheets the Danes have kept in their last ten outings, only one has come in Euro 2020 – against a toothless and indisciplined Welsh side in the Round of 16. However the Danes have scored in their nine of their last ten games, clearly have scoring potential throughout the team and will arguably be our first real defensive test of the tournament: Kasper Dollberg has scored all of his three goals in the last two games and if we’re to maintain a record of not conceding a goal in this tournament so far we need to recognise the danger.

The Danes may also be our first real offensive test of Euro 2020. In their last ten games they’ve not conceded a first half goal at all, but they appear to be vulnerable at the start of the second half – Finland, Belgium and Denmark all found the back of the net within fifteen minutes of the restart and we’ve already scored three in that period, including two of the four goals in the trashing of Ukraine last weekend.

England

My wife will tell you that I was far from impressed with the first half against Ukraine: simply put, we should have been 2-0 up. However the two quick goals at the start of the second half more or less shut me up for the rest of the game – although I did managed some cider fuelled insights for the last half an hour. What does seem to be happening with England though is that slowish starts are becoming more common: over our last ten games we only scored seven goals in the first half as opposed to 12 in the second. With specific regard to the games in Euro 2020, those figures are two (first half) and six (second half), but if you slice those numbers another way, we’ve scored five times in the first fifteen minutes of either half during the Euros…so we need to be out of the blocks quickly this evening.

So in conclusion…

It’s absolutely impossible for me to be objective about this game, but I will try to do it. Home advantage is going to count for a lot but I think this is going to be a lot closer than Saturday’s game. If England turn in another solid defensive performance then we should be fine, but if it ends goalless after 90 minutes…well let’s not go there shall we?

Update: it’s nearly midnight. We’re in a major final again after 55 years and that was the result of two goals scored by Danish players and a rebound from a penalty that – depending on your affiliation – could be perceived as being a bit harsh. But none of that matters for now does it.

Germany Preview Part 2: Kane Unable?

I had hoped to have this part up on Monday evening, but then two classic games of football broke out ­čÖé

Considering that the Czechs beat the Dutch on Sunday and Croatia put three past Spain┬áin a valiant losing effort yesterday, I think we can be pleased with having beaten both of them without conceding a goal. I know group stage games are usually more about jockeying for position than anything else – unless of course you’re Scottish, when earning a point and scoring precisely one goal is seen as a national triumph – but nonetheless our results in Group D don’t look half as shabby as the pundits would have had you believe a couple of weeks ago.

The big problem I can see for England this evening is that although we’ve gone nine games without losing and have kept eight clean sheets whilst doing so, we haven’t scored more than one goal against the opposition since battering San Marino in March. Harry Kane hasn’t scored in any of the last five and hasn’t scored for England from open play since notching against Albania in March.

I wonder if it’s time for Gareth Southgate to consider other options upfront, because the downside of another game in which Kane fails to make an impression might mean yet another defeat by Germany. It’s not like we’ve never been in this situation before. I mentioned to a friend during the game against the Czechs that Alf Ramsey had to make changes when Jimmy Greaves was injured before the 1966 Quarter Final against Argentina; considering that Dominic Calvert-Lewin have scored as many goals as Kane in the last ten I wonder if the Everton striker deserves a chance in a big game in the same way Geoff Hurst did when he replaced Greaves. However, replacing Kane would mean choosing another captain: Jordan Henderson would be the obvious choice.

Additionally, Kane is the only player to have appeared in eight of the last ten games but he’s only completed three of those matches. For someone who expressed a desire to leave Spurs, he’s not done a particularly good job of advertising himself to other clubs: I wonder if this is one of the stories that develops after the tournament finishes – possibly along the line of he’s been playing with an injury since February, needs off season surgery etc. It’s all very well being loyal to players who aren’t having a great run of form, but that can often have a detrimental effect on other team members: Southgate gets paid a fair whack for this job and needs to be able to take difficult decisions.

That being said, despite obvious experimentation before the tournament, Southgate has been pretty consistent with his team selection during this tournament with ten players having started at least two of the three games. Mason Mount‘s enforced isolation after Billy Gilmour’s positive Covid test after the Scotland match was the reason why Buyako Saka was selected against the Czechs – and Mount is going to find it difficult to get his place back after the teenaged Arsenal midfielder had such a good game. The only other issues I can see are if Harry Maguire keeps his place in defence or not, if Phil Foden starts – that’s not guaranteed – and who Marcus Rashford will replace.

Having such a good defence presents an analytical problem. As we’ve only conceded three goals in the last ten games, it’s almost impossible to present a case for when England are most likely to conceed a goal – although the two goals Belgium scored in the Nations League defeat last November were both before 30 minutes had elapsed. Offensively, it’s far clearer: half of England’s first half goals in the last ten games have been scored between the 16th and 30th minute with 44% of our second half goals being scored in the final fourteen minutes – if you read part one of this preview, you’ll know that’s significant as that’s exactly when Germany are vulnerable.

In context of other six round of 16 games, four were eventually won by the team ranked higher in the most recent FIFA rankings – good news for England, who are currently 77 points ahead of Germany, which is about the same as the difference between us and Croatia in our first game of the tournament. Half of the games in this round so far have gone to extra time with an average of 3.16 goals per game scored in 90 minutes but possibly the most significant factor is that tonight’s game is the only Round of 16 match where one of the participants has home advantage. So far only 50% of games where one side had home advantage have been won by the hosts, but 41% of the remaining matches finished all square.

It’s tough to be objective considering the amount of history between the two countries – football or otherwise – especially when your first memories of supporting England are based the first time we ever lost to West Germany in a home game (1-3, Euro 72 Quarter Final, April 29th 1972 – it was 1-1 with seven minutes left!). However, as I wrote in the first part of this preview, this is not a vintage German team by any measure and this afternoon’s game is a good chance to finally earn a first win over Germany in England since December 1935.

I just hope it doesn’t go to bloody penalties again.