Harry Kane was asked if it were the best one-two he had ever played.
“Damn right it is!” the elated England captain told ITV. “It wasn’t the penalty I wanted to execute. It went lower than I thought, but a bonus is it bounced back to me.”
Kasper Schmeichel was the unfortunate Denmark player to claim the ‘assist’ for England’s extra-time winner in Wednesday’s semi-final. The goalkeeper was almost outfoxed by how tame a penalty it was: in trying to keep hold of the ball, he succeeded only in parrying it back to Kane for a tap-in.
Nobody could blame Schmeichel for Denmark’s defeat, though. Stats Perform certainly isn’t going to try: according to our Opta player index, the Leicester City man was the player of the round in the Euro 2020 semi-finals, scoring 99.1 for his performance at Wembley Stadium. For context, the only keeper to record a better figure at these finals was Switzerland’s Yann Sommer (99.6) in their quarter-final against Spain.
Schmeichel has enjoyed playing at Wembley this year. In May, he produced a spellbinding save to deny Mason Mount as Leicester beat Chelsea 1-0 in a memorable FA Cup final. He was in the same sort of mood against England, as Denmark played in their first European Championship semi-final since 1992, when his father, Peter, saved a penalty from the great Marco van Basten to secure a place in the final.
Kasper Schmeichel enjoyed no such celebrations after extra time, but this was still a performance to savour. He made exceptional saves to deny Raheem Sterling, Harry Maguire and Harry Kane, as well as keep out the penalty from the England captain. He even produced a brilliant block to deny Sterling in the dying seconds from point-blank range, allowing Denmark to hope for just a little longer.
In total, Schmeichel made nine saves across 120 minutes. According to Opta’s expected goals on target (xGOT) model – a measure of the quality of attempts on target – the 34-year-old prevented 2.9 goals in the semi-final. That is the highest value by a goalkeeper in a single European Championship match since at least 1980.
Such was the imperious nature of Schmeichel’s performance that you began to feel Denmark would be favourites if the contest went to penalties. It was a fair prediction given he saved the spot-kick he ended up facing, but fate, it seems, was on England’s side.
Denmark have enjoyed a remarkable run at these finals, carried along by passionate support from fans and neutrals alike following the awful scenes of Christian Eriksen’s collapse in their opening game. Several players will be candidates for the team of the tournament, but few have a stronger case than Schmeichel.