After a month of intense drama and inevitable shocks, Euro 2020’s showpiece participants were confirmed, as Italy and England booked their place in Sunday’s final at Wembley.
Tuesday’s semi-final clash saw Roberto Mancini’s side scrape past an impressive Spain side via the dreaded penalty shootout, after goals from Juventus teammates Federico Chiesa and Alvaro Morata took the tie to extra-time, with the latter man’s decisive spot-kick blunder ultimately proving costly, as Jorginho sunk home the winner.
The following night, Gareth Southgate’s men secured a nervy, yet historic triumph after being made to work for it against a stubborn Denmark side, the Three Lions shaking off an early Mikkel Damsgaard free-kick to come from behind to win, an own goal from Simon Kjaer and a rebounded penalty from Harry Kane in extra-time sending them through.
Following the latest action, we’ve picked our best XI from the semi-final fixtures.
Goalkeeper: Kasper Schmeichel
Although Gianluigi Donnarumma staked a claim with his pivotal penalty save in the shootout, it’s hard to look past Kasper Schmeichel for a place in this side, the Danish stopper perhaps wondering what more he could have done to help his side progress.
Much like his FA Cup final heroics, the Leicester City man was in top form, notably denying Raheem Sterling from point blank range just prior to the eventual England goal, while also clawing away a Harry Maguire header midway through the second-half.
In extra-time, faced with the typically ruthless Harry Kane from the penalty spot, the 34-year-old upset the odds to deny the Tottenham striker down to his left, before seeing the ball agonisingly squirm back to the England skipper who duly slotted home for the winner
That initial save is made even more impressive by the fact that footage has since shown a member of the home support attempting to distract the ‘keeper with a laser.
Kasper Schmeichel STRETCHED for that save🧤 pic.twitter.com/APInUT705L
— B/R Football (@brfootball) July 7, 2021
Right-back: Giovanni Di Lorenzo
An unsung hero for the Italians on Tuesday evening, the Napoli defender had only really come into the side due to an injury picked by Alessandro Florenzi in the opening game, yet has looked magnificent ever since, producing a distinctly solid display against Spain.
Tasked with trying to handle a fluid and free-flowing opposition attack, the 27-year-old was more than up to the challenge, providing a real masterclass in defending with his side forced to hang on for much of the Wembley encounter.
One real moment of brilliance saw the full-back manage to turn an excellent Dani Olmo cross behind under pressure, Di Lorenzo beautifully flicking the ball behind out for a corner when a goal seemed almost inevitable.
Centre-back: Leonardo Bonucci
Although teammate and fellow veteran Giorgio Chiellini grabbed the headlines for his pre-shootout sh*thousery, it was Leonardo Bonucci who was arguably the better of the two on the night, putting in a typically measured performance.
Chiellini may provide the passion, but it’s Bonucci who offers a much-needed level of calm, not only both in a defensive manner, but also the way he can initiate attacks with the ball at his feet.
He no doubt had a tough job on his hands contending with Spain’s vibrant forward line, yet unsurprisingly met the challenge head on, while also stepping up to dispatch a fierce penalty in the shootout en route to Italy’s triumph.
“Only those who don’t take penalties don’t miss. I was sure that I would score.”
— UEFA EURO 2020 (@EURO2020) July 6, 2021
Centre-back: Jannik Vestergaard
Jannik Verstergaard has enjoyed a fine season and fine tournament, the Southampton man once again showcasing his defensive strength amid an English onslaught at Wembley, albeit while eventually ending up on the losing side.
Despite a promising spell inside the first-half, Kasper Hjulmand’s side were under the cosh for large chunks of the 120 minutes of action, yet brilliantly limited their opponents to just a handful of clearcut openings, with the back three of, Simon Kjaer, Andreas Christensen and Vestergaard all putting in fine displays.
Aerially impressive as ever, the 28-year-old repelled much of that which entered the box, hardly giving Harry Kane a sniff while also having to deal with the pace of both Bukayo Saka and then Raheem Sterling out wide. Not a perfect display no doubt, but did more than enough to try and help his side to victory.
England’s Harry Maguire was also a standout performer for his country once again, yet wasn’t really tested for much of the game, with the hosts dominating the ball.
Left-back: Luke Shaw
In truth, there wasn’t too many notable left-back display’s across both fixtures, yet Luke Shaw earns his spot for another composed performance in what’s been a stellar tournament for the Manchester United defender.
The 25-year-old was perhaps harshly penalised for the free-kick that led to the Danish opener, yet such is his current confidence that infringement appeared not to knock him, as he continued to offer a threat down the left-flank.
As he has done all season, the former Southampton man timed his foray’s forward perfectly, combining well with Sterling down the left and fizzing in a few dangerous deliveries, albeit with the opposition defence standing firm.
Midfield: Sergio Busquets
Spain may have been on the losing side, yet Luis Enrique’s men can hold their heads high following an impressive display at Wembley, in what was arguably one of the tournament’s most enthralling encounters.
One key factor in the Spanish showing was the strength of their midfield, anchored beautifully by the ever-reliable Sergio Busquets, who seemingly continually seeks to remind any potential doubters that he is a wonderfully gifted midfielder.
Throughout the game, the Barcelona man dictated play and fed balls into the youthful attack ahead of him, frequently sparking attacks with his cute, incisive forward passes that the Italian midfield struggled to prevent.
Arguably the night’s best player, Pedri continued his stunning breakthrough tournament with perhaps his best display to-date, the 18-year-old producing a midfield masterclass against a vastly more experienced Italian opposition.
Drifting between the lines and dictating play, the teenager’s maturity and bravery was a joy to behold, as he managed to play the role of Spain’s chief creator, all while hardly giving the ball away, having only misplaced two of his 67 passes in 120 minutes of action.
Although it eventually counted for little as Spain crashed out, the former Las Palmas youngster has enhanced his already glowing reputation and looks set to be a mainstay for both club and country for years to come.
His international involvement also isn’t actually at an end this summer, as he has been included in the Spanish squad for the Tokyo Olympics, which begin later this month.
Barring a major turn of events, Pedri will be chosen as the young player of the tournament in EURO 2020. The youngster has impressed the UEFA technical observers with his play style and self-confidence.
— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) July 8, 2021
Midfield: Dani Olmo
Rounding off our all Spanish midfield, Dani Olmo is another who stepped into the limelight on Tuesday evening, putting in a bubbly and consistent display up against a fearsome Italian defensive unit.
Although he began the night as one of La Roja’s three fluid forwards, he seemingly drifted anywhere and everywhere, flitting between being the pressing presence in attack and the creative spark in attacking midfield, hence why we’ve opted for him in one of our midfield roles.
The RB Leipzig midfielder’s telling contribution was his assist for Spain’s thoroughly deserved equaliser, the 23-year-old feeding Alvaro Morata with an excellent threaded pass into the box, albeit he would end his night on a sour note after blazing his penalty over the crossbar.
A quick word for Chelsea man Jorginho, who’s cooly taken penalty clinched victory for Mancini’s men. The midfielder has had a fine season and a fine tournament, and while he wasn’t under-par at Wembley, the Italian midfield did struggle against the names mentioned above, hence why’s not earnt a place in our selection.
Right-wing: Federico Chiesa
Italy’s goalscorer on the night, Federico Chiesa is simply just an incredibly enjoyable player to watch, with his relentless work ethic and electric speed a constant thorn in the side of the Spanish defence.
On a quieter night for both Lorenzo Insigne and Ciro Immobile, Chiesa was the main attacking threat for Italy, popping up with the game’s opening goal with an excellent curling effort for what was his second of the tournament, having netted a pivotal goal in the last-16 win over Austria.
There must also be a mention for Denmark’s Mikkel Damsgaard who capped his breakthrough summer with a delightful free-kick to give his side the lead at Wembley, adding to the wonder goal he netted in the final group game win over Russia.
Aside from that set-piece stunner, however, his impact on the match was fairly limited and he was eventually withdrawn after 67 minutes.
📅 14 June 1996
Enrico Chiesa scores for #ITA at the European Championships
📅 6 July 2021
Federico Chiesa scores for #ITA at the European Championships
— SuperSport 🏆 (@SuperSportTV) July 6, 2021
Left-wing: Raheem Sterling
The decision on who finishes as player of the tournament is usually influenced by which nation wins the competition, yet even if England aren’t victorious on Sunday, Raheem Sterling has certainly done enough to warrant the individual accolade.
Right from minute one, the Manchester City man was at it, proving a constant menace with his driving runs at the Danish defence and causing havoc down either flank, once again making those who questioned his place in the starting XI – or for even the squad – prior to the tournament look rather silly.
The only blot on his copybook was his inexplicable miss from just yards out just before the Three Lions equaliser, yet it was his pressure which forced Simon Kjaer to turn into his own net, while he also made the telling difference by earning his side what can only be described as a contentious penalty.
Even if the level of contact appears debatable, Sterling forced both the referee and the Danish defenders into a decision by driving and forcing his way into the penalty area, as he has done to great effect all tournament.
Forward: Harry Kane
For a few agonising seconds, Harry Kane must have been fearing the worst, as his tame spot-kick fell kindly in the direction of the diving Kasper Schmeichel.
After so many years of hurt, the Tottenham striker looked to have potentially squandered one of the best chances his nation would ever have to progress to a major tournament final, with the miss likely to lead to the lottery that is a penalty shoot-out.
However, to both his and England’s relief, the ball spun kindly back to his feet, the 27-year-old duly tucking the ball home to spark scenes of utter jubilation and disbelief around Wembley and for those viewing at home.
Quarter-final: Man of the Match
Semi-final: Man of the Match
Big game player ⭐️ pic.twitter.com/npf5q5vW8v
— SPORTbible (@sportbible) July 8, 2021
Although the goal has grabbed the headlines, his all-round display was particularly impressive, with his uncanny knack of winning fouls and relieving pressure for his side so vital in those nervy closing stages.
It’s not been an easy ride for the England skipper in this tournament, yet after a succession of limp showings in the group stage, he now looks back to his best. With four goals he is also now in touching distance of a potential share of the Golden Boot, while also having the chance to overtake Gary Lineker as the Three Lions highest scorer in major tournament history – the two men currently level on ten apiece.