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.

Ukraine, Euro 2020 Quarter Final

The usual hysteria accompanying England in tournaments hasn’t really died down yet.

Yesterday morning Radio 5 interviewed someone who is apparently England’s leading Harry Kane lookalike, which reminded me of the old quip about ‘he’s got a face for radio’ – the chap might well have been the spit of Kane, but how the hell were us listeners supposed to know? That just about sums up the non-sporting media for me.

My approach to this preview is how potential this game has for being an upset. According to the most recent FIFA rankings Ukraine are the second weakest team left in the competition – only the Czechs are lower and that’s something that will definitely change when the next set are released – and have already lost twice in Euro 2020 including after they came back from a two goal deficit against Netherlands. They looked to be heading to penalties at Hampden the other day, but you have to say that the Swedes shot themselves in the foot.

It’s not the first time we’ve reached the quarter finals in the Euros, but the problem for us is that we haven’t got past them since 1996. We actually lost to both Portugal and Italy on penalties on the same date eight years apart but with all due respect I don’t think the current Ukraine team can be compared to either of the teams that beat us: both Portugal and Italy ended up as beaten finalists in Euro 2004 and Euro 2012 respectively.

As for Ukraine, this is very much uncharted territory. They reached the World Cup quarter finals in 2006 but have never got this far in a European Championship tournament. Ukraine have only beaten us once (in October 2009 – you may remember the furore about the game being pay per view and Robert Green being sent off) although our last victory against them was in a group game in Euro 2012 when Ukraine were co-hosts and Mario Devic had a perfectly good equaliser ruled out in the days before VAR would have given it:

Back to the present now and it’s worth pointing out that Ukraine have only won three of their last ten games over 90 minutes, having only kept clean sheets against Northern Ireland and Cyprus at home – they were actually losing at home to Bahrain in a pre-tournament friendly at the end of May. They seem to be very vulnerable in the first 15 minutes of the second half, having conceded 66% of their goals in last ten games in that period.

However, they’ve only failed to score once in those last ten games (against Austria in Bucharest in the group stage 12 days ago) and although Andriy Yarmolenko and Oleksander Zinchenko will be familiar to English fans, unless you follow Belgian football Roman Yaremchuck of Gent won’t be. Yet.

Conclusion

I think this may be an opportunity to send a genuine message to the rest of the competition in the same way that Italy did last night. The atmosphere will be less febrile in Rome than it has been at Wembley and that’s arguably a better setting for a calm, professional performance in Rome – especially as Ukraine will go for broke. I know I’m biased but I can’t see anything other than an England win.

Update: 4-0, not bad…on to Wednesday.