Almost as much has been made of the spirit within the England camp as the team’s quality on the pitch at Euro 2020.
We’re regularly bombarded with pictures on social media of players flicking each other’s ears and jumping about on inflatables in the swimming pool, but deep down all England fans knew that their side was yet to be truly tested.
Of course they’d come through a few tough games against the likes of Croatia and Germany, but having yet to concede a goal at the tournament the question remained as to just how Gareth Southgate’s men would react when things weren’t so rosy.
England’s semi-final clash against Denmark at Wembley on Wednesday night afforded us our first opportunity to see just how they would react.
After a frantic start to the game, England were hit with a hammer blow as Mikkel Damsgaard smashed a free kick beyond Jordan Pickford. It would be very polite to call the strike ‘unstoppable’, because in all honesty it definitely could have been stopped, but now was the time for England to show what they were made of.
In a weird sort of parallel to England’s semi-final appearance at the 2018 World Cup, a first-half free-kick had made the score 1-0, but this time it would be England who were required to chase the game.
Southgate’s men bounced back immediately, with Raheem Sterling missing a gilt-edged opportunity to level the scoring after Kasper Schmeichel had smothered the Manchester City forward’s effort, but we didn’t have to wait long for the equaliser to come.
Superb work by Bukayo Saka down the England right saw him burst free before squaring to Sterling who was denied a fourth goal of Euro 2020 by Simon Kjaer – but the Milan man could only divert the ball into the back of his own net.
England continued to rally after the break and only the brilliance of Schmeichel kept the scores level after he somehow clawed Harry Maguire’s goal-bound header away from goal.
After 90 minutes the scores were locked at 0-0, and the shrill screech of the referee’s whistle signalled extra time was on the way.
Now this would be a test of England’s mental character.
Despite the evident nerves in the crowd the England team continued to flood forward and their big chance finally arrived as Sterling was brought down in the area by Joakim Maehle. Harry Kane stepped up looking like a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, and despite Schmeichel saving his spot kick the forward followed in to tap England into the lead.
With 15 minutes of the game still to navigate, England would need to show plenty of nous to hold on to the lead as well as having the courage to drive forward where possible to relieve the pressure – something they did brilliantly.
Despite a few half-chances for the Danes, England looked the more likely to grab the next goal, and Southgate’s men showed brilliant game management to keep hold of the ball and pass their way to victory.
Of course you need bucket loads of quality to get into the latter rounds of a major tournament, but you need intelligence and character along the way, and England have proved they’ve got all of the above in abundance.