By Bob Harris from England, exclusively for Week-End and lemauricien.com .
England established themselves as favourites to win Euro 2020 when they left the sanctuary of Wembley for the first time to overcome the challenge of Ukraine in the Olympic Stadium in Rome and reach their first Euro semi-finals for a quarter of a century.
England won with goals coming from skipper Harry Kane, firing England ahead after just 3 minutes and 24 seconds, and then a frantic burst of hot strikes from Harry Maguire, Kane again and a first ever goal for the veteran Jordan Henderson.
It was another tactical masterpiece, and such was England’s dominance that Southgate was able to bring off yellow card holders Rice and Phillips as well as giving rests to the outstanding Shaw, Sterling and Kane, allowing minutes for Bellingham, Rashford, Calvert Lewin and Phillips.
Gareth Southgate’s team now return to Wembley to face Denmark who beat the Czech Republic 2-1, in the first of yesterday’s quarter finals in the Olympic Park in Baku, watched by a sprinkling of spectators who were made to jump through hoops to attend a ground 2,000 miles away and located more in Asia than Europe.
Manager Southgate continued to outfox the critics with his team selections as he opted for a back four and brought in the newly acquired Manchester United winger Jadon Sancho for his first start in the competition, replacing the injured Bukayo Sako, and recalling Mason Mount following his Covid isolation, which caused him to miss the key victory against the old rivals Germany.
They not only smashed in goals but stayed watertight at the back and became the first ever side to go through their first five matches without conceding a goal.
England ignored some of the recent criticism and sat back after their early strike and soaked up the pressure with goalkeeper Jordan Pickford having to make just the one save from Roman Yaremchuk after a blunder by Kyle Walker, but England had it under control with Raheem Sterling and Jadon Sancho probing and prodding away.
The pundits and former players had their moan but just as they did against Germany,, England exploded out of the blocks, scoring in the first minute of the second half through a bullet like Maguire header with Kane adding another header five minutes later after a sweet move between Mount, Sterling and Shaw.
Kane was denied his hat trick with a stunning strike and an equally stunning save from under fire goalkeeper Heorhiy Bushchan but from the resultant corner substitute Henderson headed home his first ever goal for his country. It was joy unconfined.
England’s game management was outstanding and when it came time for the big push they were up for that as well as they created their own atmosphere in the near empty Olympic Stadium. Where the hell did all those English supporters come from?
Denmark, who continue to ride the wave of emotion following the Christian Eriksen collapse in their opening match, will be formidable opponents for England, even at Wembley where they won 1-0 with a disputed Eriksen penalty in the nations League. The have also revived memories of 1992 when they were recalled from their holidays to win the European Championships against all the odds.
But this time the odds are on this England side bristling with talent, goals and mean in defence. Can we start to dream?