England return to Wembley two wins from a first European Championship title after recording their biggest ever victory at the tournament with a 4-0 demolition of Ukraine in the quarter-finals in Rome.
Having successfully negotiated a trip to the Stadio Olimpico with a flourish, Gareth Southgate’s team will have the support of some 60,000 fans when they take on Denmark for a place in the final Wednesday.
Three years on from a bitter World Cup semi-final loss to Croatia, England have the chance to move on from that disappointment and end a long wait for silverware.
With the remainder of the competition to be played in London and Covid-19 restrictions severely limiting travelling fans, they are unlikely to get a better opportunity of adding to the 1966 World Cup win.
“Teams have to go on a bit of a journey and they have to go through some pain sometimes to progress,” said Southgate.
“We’ve had some great nights over the last four years but we’ve also had some painful ones and that’s definitely helped us prepare for another tournament.”
Unlike in Russia, where Harry Kane’s hot start soon became a distant memory as England entered the knockout phase, the Tottenham striker looks to have rediscovered his form at the perfect moment.
While the attack clicked into gear on another famous night in the Italian capital, 24 years after a goalless draw here secured qualification for the 1998 World Cup, the defence remains unbreached.
“To come here, prepare differently, play in a historic stadium on a night that was beautiful for football with the weather inspired the players,” said Southgate.
“They gave a fantastic performance, not only the players who started but the players who came into the game.”
“The recognition in moments like tonight was that we didn’t want to take a backwards step. We really wanted to grasp an opportunity. I thought the players were decisive and ruthless all night,” he added.
‘On the right track’
England matched their four-goal total output from their four previous games in just 90 minutes as they ripped apart a vulnerable Ukraine backline.
Jadon Sancho looked sharp on his first start of Euro 2020, with Raheem Sterling again impressing, and Mason Mount showed no sign of rust after missing the past two games after being forced to quarantine.
Such was the dominance of England’s display that Jack Grealish, who played a vital role coming off the bench in the victory over Germany, was kept in reserve along with Phil Foden.
“We are on the right track for sure, but we haven’t done nothing yet,” said Kane.
“We have got a massive semi-final to look forward to now at Wembley. What an occasion, what a moment to be involved in.
“We have a vision of where we want to be, we are taking it step by step and so far so good, so we will recover now, take the confidence from this game but look ahead to a tough team in Denmark.”
Denmark are riding a wave of emotion spurred by the near-tragedy of Christian Eriksen’s cardiac arrest in their opening match.
They are dreaming of a repeat of their 1992 triumph and could yet spoil England’s party, having beaten them 1-0 at Wembley last year in the Nations League.
“It’s an amazing game to be a part of. To be able to lead out a team at any game at Wembley is special, to have a semi-final is extra special,” said Southgate.
“We won’t win the game because we’re at home. We’ve got to play well and we’ve got a fabulous opportunity.
“It’s a chance to make history. We’ve never been to a European Championship final, it’s not so much pressure but it’s another challenge for these players to take on.”
Get past Denmark and Italy or Spain would await on July 11, fittingly one of Europe’s traditional powers the final hurdle standing in the way of England glory.