Whisper it quietly, but football really could be coming home this summer.
Certainly, England have been one of the most impressive sides in the delayed Euro 2020 tournament to date, with their recent form culminating with a 4-0 quarter-final win over Ukraine.
Incredibly, the most recent win was achieved without creative focal points Jack Grealish and Phil Foden even leaving the bench, such was England's dominance and their sustained control of the match.
However, both of these players may still play a key role in the remaining two matches, especially the ebullient Foden. But will he start against Denmark, and will help England to break their 55-year tournament hoodoo?
Appraising the Threat of the Danes
In the semi-final on Wednesday night, England will take on the tournament’s surprise package Denmark.
After losing their opening two matches and Cristian Eriksen following the playmaker’s cardiac arrest on day two of the tournament, the Danes have been in imperious form, winning three consecutive matches by a combined margin of 10-2.
While there’s no doubt that the Danes are riding the crest of an emotional wave following the loss of Eriksen, it would do the side a great disservice to suggest that this is the sole factor for their recent success.
In fact, Denmark have grown to supplement their physical strength and organisation with pace and creativity in attack, with the sublimely talented Mikkel Damsgaard perfectly complimenting the athleticism of Barca striker Martin Braithwaite and the clinical finishing of Kasper Dolberg.
The service from the wide areas has also been exceptional, with left wing-back Joakim Maehle one of several players in this position to excel during the tournament (think Luke Shaw and Leonardo Spinazzola).
His outside of the right foot assist for Dolberg’s decisive goal against the Czechs was particularly impressive, so England will definitely have their hands full against a delightfully balanced, well-coached, and increasingly confident side.
Why Foden Could Prove Crucial Against Denmark
Given the Danes' ability to switch seamlessly between 3-4-2-1 and 4-3-3 (with Andreas Christensen pushing into a deep midfield role and the wing-backs dropping back slightly), Gareth Southgate will have to get his tactics spot on in midweek.
However, the attacking nature of Maehle and his desire to push forward in either system may encourage Southgate to select a pacy dribbler or forward on the right of the attack, with Jadon Sancho (who impressed against Ukraine) and Marcus Rashford the ideal candidates.
However, we reckon that this game will be much tighter and more keenly contested than the quarter-final, so it’s likely that Foden’s enthusiasm, creativity, and outstanding movement could prove crucial later on in the game.
This is certainly true if Sterling maintains his outstanding form on the left-hand side, with Foden offering genuine balance and goal threat from the right-flank in addition to his ability to help retain possession.
Similarly, if Denmark does stick with their favoured 3-4-2-1 formation, there may be pockets of space between the Danes' defense and midfield, with Foden arguably ideally placed to exploit these.
So, a fresh and focused Foden could yet play a crucial role in the semi-final, even if he’s unlikely to be named in the starting 11.
The Last Word
Foden is one of England’s best technical players, having honed his skills on grassroots pitches of all shapes and sizes and benefited from the tutelage of one of the world’s premier footballing coaches in Pep Guardiola.
With this in mind, some will be disappointed Foden has barely featured since the opening two matches, but Southgate has marshalled his troops considerably well in the five matches so far. To this end, both Foden and the mercurial Grealish are fresh and raring to go, creating potential match-winners at the business end of the tournament.
However, it may be Foden’s time to shine in the semis, with his particular skill set and positioning perfect to exploit the system and personnel of the Danes.
England will expect on Wednesday, of course, but a stellar performance by Foden (either from the start or the bench) could go a long way towards securing an historic victory.