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England supporters of long standing – and long suffering – were transported into an unfamiliar world as they watched Gareth Southgate’s side cruise into the Euro 2020 semi-finals in the most majestic style in Rome.
It was Southgate himself who applied cold water to the celebrations and excitement after the last-16 win against Germany at Wembley set up what turned out to be the glorious formality of a 4-0 quarter-final win over Ukraine.
Southgate warned that first knockout win against Germany in 55 years would count for nothing unless England built on it. And build on it they did with a spectacular dismissal of Ukraine to set up a meeting with dangerous Denmark at Wembley on Wednesday.
No nerves. No worries. No concerns over expensive yellow cards. Just the enjoyment of wondering whether England might add more while sitting back, revelling in a performance that simply could not have been more controlled or comprehensive.
Yes, a very unfamiliar feeling for those who have followed England’s fortunes at major tournaments. Watching England is not meant to be like this – or it certainly has not been in recent memory.
And before the arguments over the quality of the opposition or luck of the draw are made, just cast your mind back to those same words uttered before Roy Hodgson’s England made a shameful exit against Iceland at Euro 2016 in the last 16.
In other words, this could have been a banana skin after the euphoria of victory over Germany at Wembley. Instead, England simply confirmed their growing authority and threat at Euro 2020.
Four wins, a draw and not a goal conceded in five games. Hugely impressive numbers.
And to add to the wave of expectation and excitement sweeping England’s followers, Harry Kane released his personal pressure valve with his goal against Germany, and looked right back to his world-class best with two goals in Rome.
Southgate will, no doubt, urge caution, temper the expectation and (rightly) keep the nation in check before what will be a thunderous night in front of 60,000 at Wembley on Wednesday.
Best of luck with that Gareth.
Events over the past 55 years make England supporters of any age a naturally pessimistic breed – but Southgate’s approach is changing all that.
His own stature is growing as he becomes only the second England men’s manager after Sir Alf Ramsey to take them into two semi-finals at major tournaments following their run to the World Cup semi-final in 2018.
In Russia, there was always the underlying suspicion a top-class team would undo them and so it proved against Croatia – here, some of those doubts are disappearing.
England will start as favourites against Denmark but beware: the Danes have quality, character and are on a mission after Christian Eriksen’s cardiac arrest during their opening defeat against Finland.
The 1992 champions seem fuelled by a sense of destiny and will not shrink from England’s challenge.
Southgate and England just seem to have so much going for them, not least the fact they will play their semi-final in front of a vast home crowd at Wembley.
And at the heart of it all is Southgate, who has moved England’s pieces around the board to perfection in Euro 2020, taking each match in isolation with a willingness to change a winning team to adjust to circumstances.
In doing so, in tandem with trusted assistant Steve Holland, he has shown the courage of his convictions, flexibility with tactics and personnel, and demonstrated the squad strength he has at his disposal.
Southgate reverted to a back four in Rome after using a three-man central defence against Germany, meaning a first start in Euro 2020 for Jadon Sancho, the gifted 21-year-old who has just agreed a £73m move from Borussia Dortmund to Manchester United.
Observers in Germany have expressed disbelief that Southgate feels he has been able to do without Sancho. But he waited until he believed the time was right, the youngster slotting in impressively in Rome.
Mason Mount, high class in recent times for England, was also back. Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson came off the bench to score, while the services of creators such as Phil Foden and Jack Grealish were not required.
And such has been the brilliance of Luke Shaw, whose quality of delivery from a free-kick and open play made goals for Harry Maguire and Harry Kane, that Chelsea’s Champions League-winning left-back Ben Chilwell is currently on the margins.
Southgate has options in all areas.
Raheem Sterling is making an argument to be the player of Euro 2020 while, of huge significance, Kane’s goal against Germany has jump started his tournament into action. With perfect timing he suddenly looks rejuvenated and the world-class striker Southgate knows he is.
Even those who feel that following England comes accompanied by a permanent dark cloud of pessimism may be tempted to feel a little sunshine poking through.
It would be foolish to dismiss Denmark but England in this mood and form should fear no-one.
An unfamiliar feeling – but one every England supporter in the country was basking in after this magnificent demolition of Ukraine sealed their first Euros semi-final since 1996.
Denmark now await at Wembley on Wednesday as England again attempt to reach their first major final since winning the World Cup in 1966.
It will be quite a night.