Wembley factor gives new England cause for hope ahead of EURO 2020 final
Thursday, 8 July 2021
England's excellent major tournament record at Wembley – not to mention a rising wave of optimism surrounding Gareth Southgate's progressive side – has fans and EURO2020.com reporter Simon Hart full of hope.
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"We've put a lot of smiles on everybody's face, but the crowd was unbelievable tonight. I thought they were fantastic, drove us on, especially in extra time, and we managed to find the winner."
These were the words of Jordan Henderson, summing up for EURO2020.com the Wembley factor that helped England's players to finally get over the line and into another major final. At long last.
Excluding shoot-outs, England have never lost a major final tournament match at Wembley (W11 D5).
Henderson is a player who knows all about the effect a home crowd can have on a team. His own Liverpool side, for example, would surely never have overturned that 3-0 deficit against Barcelona on a red-hot semi-final night in 2019 without a baying Anfield.
The difference with Anfield is there is a bedrock of belief built up by years of improbable feats. For England, as Gareth Southgate said in the lead-up to the semi-final triumph over Denmark, the new Wembley, where England first played in 2007, has no such history. "Wembley has a fantastic history, of course, but for those of us old enough to remember it, a lot of those memories would be from the old stadium," he said.
Southgate's call was to create fresh "iconic moments" under the arch of the new stadium – a request heeded by a team who have begun writing a fresh chapter under their remarkably astute, sure-footed and forward-looking manager. In that sense, team and stadium are on a shared mission to make history in this tournament, just as an earlier England side did beneath the old Twin Towers in 1966.
The home crowd had played their part against Germany in the round of 16 and on Wednesday night – with 64,547 inside Wembley – they did it again to set up a final against Italy at an arena where England have now won 13 of their last 15 matches.
One particular moment at the start of extra time summed up the loud conviction that emanated from the stands. Older England followers could have been forgiven a sinking feeling given the memories of their team drawing 1-1 at full time in major semi-finals in 1990, 1996 and 2018; the eventual outcome was painful on each occasion.
As the line goes at the beginning of Three Lions, a song (despite what some may think) about the football supporter's enduring hope in the face of bitter experience: "England's gonna throw it away, gonna blow it away." But not this time.
As the arch glowed against a deepening night sky, a loud rendition of that same song was the backdrop as England poured forward looking for that winner in the extra period. And after Harry Kane had provided it, at the end, after the choruses of Sweet Caroline had subsided, so many just stayed on in those same stands, soaking it all in.
And now for Italy. "A final. At home. Yeah, what a feeling," Kane told EURO2020.com after the game down at pitchside. As it happens, history shows a final at home is not always such a good feeling. France lost one five years ago, Portugal another in 2004 when beaten by Greece. Only twice before has a nation won the EURO on home soil: Spain in 1964, France in 1984. But then this is Southgate’s England, a new England and a new history.