Not a single person in England will care but the perennial underachievers of world football have ended their major championship final drought in the most controversial of circumstances.
Gareth Southgate’s side will face Italy at Wembley on Monday in England’s first European Championship final after a match defined by questionable refereeing decisions.
In the first period of extra time, after England and Denmark finished normal time tied at 1-1, Raheem Sterling wove his way into the penalty box and went down under pressure from two defenders.
The referee ruled it a foul and pointed to the penalty spot, where Harry Kane had his shot blocked by Kasper Schmeichel but was first to the rebound and tucked away a game-winner that sent English fans crazy.
As celebrations began, attention turned immediately to the Sterling foul, which appeared to be committed by Joakim Maehle.
The reaction from some quarters was fierce.
“It’s a blatant dive,” said former Germany international Didi Hamann. “I think it’s a disgraceful decision.”
Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger also declared it “no penalty” and couldn’t understand why VAR wasn’t used.
“No one knows who gave away that penalty,” Socceroos legend John Aloisi said on Optus Sport. “Was there enough contact? I don’t think there was. In my opinion, it wasn’t a penalty.”
But Sterling said the foul on him that led to England’s winning goal was a “clear penalty”.
“I went into the box and he stuck his right leg out, and it touched my leg so it was a clear penalty,” Sterling told ITV.
Kane agreed. “I thought it was a penalty,” said Kane. “I thought I should’ve had a penalty in the second half as well. It probably evened itself out over the game.”
Sterling hailed his team’s ability to recover from Mikkel Damsgaard’s 30th-minute opener to keep their trophy hopes alive.
“It was a top performance – we had to dig in deep after the first goal we conceded in the tournament, and we regrouped well and showed a good team spirit to come back and win the game,” he said.
“It was difficult going behind but we knew we had to stay patient – we knew with the legs we’ve got, the aggressiveness and the power we have in the team, it would be a matter of time before we broke them down.”
England reached their first major final since winning the 1966 World Cup, with Sterling a standout performer once more for Gareth Southgate’s side at Wembley.
“It’s another step in the right direction,” said Sterling.
“But once we’re back in the dressing room it’s over and we’ve got to focus on the weekend now. It’s step-by-step and that’s all we can do.”
As ever, England did it the hard way but by the final whistle 60,000 fans were bouncing in ecstasy, while millions watching on television across the country pinched themselves in disbelief.
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