Match Preview: England looking to break barriers by making Euros final, but Danes refuse underdog tag

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England have made “massive strides” in recent years and reaching the final of the European Championship for the first time in their history would represent an exciting opportunity for the young squad, coach Gareth Southgate said on Tuesday.

England, who play Denmark at Wembley on Wednesday, last played in the Euros semi-finals in 1996 at the same venue where they were knocked out when Southgate missed a penalty in a shootout against Germany.

Since Southgate took over as manager, England have reached the semi-finals of the World Cup and the Nations League and, though the 50-year-old is not looking to avenge that miss, he has urged his squad to go one step further.

“It’s not about what it is for me, it’s about what it is for the players, all of the staff and the country,” Southgate told reporters.

“We don’t have as good a football history as we like to believe sometimes and these players are making massive strides and breaking barriers all the time.

“We’ve broken barriers in this tournament and we have another opportunity to do that tomorrow. We’ve never been to a European Championship final so we can be the first which is really exciting for everybody.”

Southgate said Denmark’s changing formations during a game will be a challenge but believes England have intelligent players who can adapt to different systems.

“Over the last three years we’ve always been flexible with our tactical approach and we always have to try to pick the right approach for the opponent,” Southgate said.

“Denmark have been changing during matches. They’ve got fluidity with their selection and we’ll have to be aware of that during the game. I think the players are aware of that and we’ve got players that make good decisions on the field.

“They’ve got experience of coming up against different systems and they know how to counter those systems… We understand our own patterns of play and it means that there’s a consistency in the way that we operate.”

England will be paying tribute to Christian Eriksen before the game after the Danish playmaker survived a cardiac arrest in their group opener last month and Harry Kane said his former Tottenham Hotspur team mate always had a place in his heart.

“I’m good friends with Chris. It will be sad not to see him there,” Kane said, adding he had been in touch with Eriksen in the days that followed.

“He’s been a big part of Denmark’s success over the years and, of course, it is a terrible thing that happened to him. The main thing is that he’s doing well and recovering well.”

Denmark may not be going into their Euro 2020 semi-final against England as favourites, but coach Kasper Hjulmand has said his team won’t be entering the Wembley pitch feeling like underdogs as they plan to go on the attack.

Hjulmand’s team have rallied after losing playmaker Christian Eriksen to a cardiac arrest in their opener against Finland with a win over Russia and knockout victories over Wales and the Czech Republic to put them one win away from the final.

“I don’t like the underdog mentality… we are for sure not the favourites, of course, but our mentality is not to play football like underdogs, just defending and hope,” Hjulmand told a news conference on Tuesday.

“Our mentality is to try to take control and be proactive as much as possible, knowing that the opponents are strong and that in phases of the game we just have to work very, very hard to defend. Our mindset is not like an underdog, it is to create and to attack and to be proactive.”

With the focus back on their football now that Eriksen is recovering, Hjulmand is relishing the prospect of taking on England on Wednesday at the iconic venue.

“It’s going to be a tough game for sure. We played against Germany before the European Championships, and I have always said that the best thing is to play against the best teams,” he said.

“We have so many good players and we need these challenges and the mentality where we can beat whoever is in front of us, no matter who it is.”

The Danes respect England’s squad of household names, midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg said, but they wouldn’t let that affect them as they go about their task on Wednesday.

“I think England’s overall squad, they’re fantastic, their midfield as well and the guys that also aren’t playing from the start. When you’re able to bring on a Jordan Henderson, I think it’s a big stamp of quality … (but) we will try our best to bring the victory to our side,” he told reporters.

For Hjulmand, who had a modest playing career before going into coaching, a win against England and a spot in Sunday’s final would be the pinnacle of his career.

“That’s what we’re dreaming about. I did not manage to do that as a player, but that’s what we play for. Imagine if we could edge England at Wembley. It does not get any bigger,” he said.