Marcus Rashford and Phil Foden give England edge in battle of the benches
One of the most impressive aspects of Denmark’s run to the Euro 2020 semi-finals was the impact of our substitutions. In several of the games the Danish national team coach, Kasper Hjulmand, was able to use them to good effect and either regain the initiative or keep the upper hand.
You can certainly say the same about England. The players England can bring on have made a huge difference – and it could give them the edge in the final. I don’t think Roberto Mancini has the same strength on the bench. The Italian starting XI is amazing but when they’ve been taken off they have not had the same quality come on.
So England’s great squad is a huge positive. Marcus Rashford has barely been on the pitch. Phil Foden is a huge star at Manchester City but has not started every game. They go into this final with so many good players who are fresh, who can come into the game a bit earlier and make a difference.
The way Gareth Southgate has managed the expectations of players to be able to rotate so freely despite criticism from the media is impressive. It is easy for coaches to react to criticism but he has stuck to what he believes and that shows he trusts his players. That is so important and part of the reason they have grown as the tournament has gone on. They have been playing better and better.
The defensive strength of both teams will be decisive but it is not all about the defence. Italy have played some good football and they are good with the transitions so it will be tough for England.
A relative lack of tournament finals experience could also be key. There is no doubt experience is important in these situations. I know that myself. I have been there and the feeling before a final when you have been there before is somehow more calm. You’re still nervous, you still have this excitement about going out there, especially if it’s in front of a huge crowd, but if you have been in those situations before you know what you’re going into and that helps you to focus on the game. You are focused on what you have to do on the pitch instead of everything else.
Italy have that; England do not. However, with Chelsea winning the Champions League final against another English side in Manchester City, Southgate has plenty of players who have experienced big finals at club level. In the end it is one game against Italy and they have a huge crowd behind them.
England deserved to make the final. Obviously there has been a lot of debate about the penalty; it was not a clear penalty. There has also been criticism in Denmark of England fans booing the national anthem and the laser shone in the face of Kasper Schmeichel during the penalty. These things are annoying. Somehow there were two balls on the pitch too, right before the penalty. But football‑wise, even though the penalty was soft, looking at the performance, England deserved to win.
I watched the game in Sweden with my family and my partner Magda Eriksson’s family, and I felt good in the first half; it felt as if we won the battle in midfield. Mikkel Damsgaard’s goal was amazing. When he scored we were screaming. He deserved it because he has been great all tournament. He made his debut not that long ago and I don’t think he would have played much if Christian Eriksen hadn’t been ruled out so early on.
In the second half, though, we got deeper and deeper, and lost some energy. The substitutions failed to inject some more. Extra time was tough to watch because I felt as if there was a little too much pressure on Denmark and England had too much of the ball. I felt the second goal was coming. England had a lot of momentum and I was hoping we could make it to penalties as I didn’t think we looked like we would score.
The penalty is a tough one because it was soft but as a forward I know that sometimes when you’re running at speed, you don’t need that much contact to fall.
I saw that Pierre-Emile Højbjerg said referees should explain their decisions and I think that was a very interesting point. It could benefit referees because sometimes it would stop the debate. Like Pierre-Emile said, he was being asked about it but he’s not objective – he’s Danish.
I am excited for the final and us Danes cannot be too disappointed. This tournament will go down in history, for sure. Partly because of everything that happened early on but also for the performances; all of which have helped to strengthen the relationship between fans and the national team.
The future is bright. A lot of players have been performing at a high level. There are a lot of young players in this team and I think a lot of them will still be there for the next tournament – and so will the coach. They reached the semi‑finals but not because of luck, because they were good.
This tournament, and what the coach Hjulmand, has done, has really showed who they are and who they always have been. He values the idea of bringing the country together. That is why we play football. We win and we make the country come together.