England vs Denmark Euro 2020: remembrance of England’s forgotten semi-final


We can say that England is still looking in vain for catharsis for its defeat against Germany in the semi-final of Euro 96. When it lost against Yugoslavia in the last four of the 1968 European Championships, Alan Mullery managed to do something while the game was still going.

Down 1-0 – Dragan Dzajic of Red Star Belgrade had scored for the Yugoslavs with just four minutes left – and kicked from pillar to post by Rajko Mitic’s ruthless side, Mullery took matters into his own hands. Or the feet.

As England left and were fed up with the relentless aggression from the opposition, the former Spurs midfielder delivered a quick kick between the legs of Dobrivoje Trivic, who collapsed to the ground at agony.

Seconds later, he became the first English player in 425 international matches to be sent off. Many more have since followed but, as England prepare to face Denmark in the hope that they will be lucky for the third time in their quest to reach a European Championship final, Mullery seeing red remains the permanent moment of a semi-final which, thanks in large part to Gareth Southgate’s missed penalty against Germany in 1996, time has forgotten.

Yet despite Mullery’s indiscretion, things could have been worse. In the other semi-final of a tournament that hardly scored in terms of entertainment, Italy beat Russia in a locker room draw when the game ended 0-0 after extra time . A 1916 French Franc coin places Italy in the final.

Referee Kurt Tschenscher would later admit his relief that the ridiculous tiebreaker ended in favor of the home side, given that 68,000 fans were still in the stadium as the play rose.

Given England’s luck heading into their semi-final, it is highly likely that a repeat of that eventuality following a standoff at Stadio Comunale would have ended in a similar disappointment.

A friendly against Germany in Hanover, just days before their last game against Yugoslavia, ended in a 1-0 defeat. However, Geoff Hurst and Nobby Stiles’ injuries cost more. Both key members of England’s World Cup winning team, their absence in the semi-finals would prove crucial. Stiles, in particular, would have been invaluable in England’s attempts to quell the offensive intent of a midfielder effortlessly combining artistry and cunning.

That said, Norman Hunter’s first tackle against chief inventor Ivica Osim made the Bosnian-born schemer a virtual passenger for the rest of the game. While he could barely walk, the arrival of the replacements. in major tournaments was still two years old.

England reached the semi-finals with an impressive victory over then-reigning European champions Spain. Alf Ramsey’s men beat them 1-0 at Wembley – Bobby Charlton’s goal just seven minutes from time – before winning 2-1 at the Bernabeu.

Watching, Mitic feared that a similar punishment would await on his end. “England are great because they play the game so simply and with such skill and strength,” he said.

Having reached the final for the first time, the nation was looking forward to summer. It was, after all, a team used to winning. Prior to this friendly loss to West Germany, the only other stain on their post World Cup notebook was against Scotland at Wembley in 1967, when intruders from the north of the border came to Wembley and had won 3-2. A 1-1 draw in Glasgow in front of a crowd of over 130,000 finally saw England advance to the final eight.

Yugoslavia beat the world champions in 1968

(Topfoto / PA)

As thunder rumbled around the Tuscan hills, it was clear that a storm was brewing. The early blow to Osim failed to temper the Yugoslav belief that the game was here to be won. Aside from a long shot from Bobby Moore, England struggled to gain a foothold in the contest. Partly, perhaps, because of the volume of football played by men on the pitch.

The autopsy following England’s loss focused on the fact that the team had played a combined total of over 500 appearances between them this season. The clash in Florence was number 64 for Hunter. Charlton, meanwhile, had been involved in a long European Cup campaign with Manchester United, culminating in a Wembley victory over Benfica just a week before the game against Yugoslavia.

Either way, it didn’t take long for the nation to experience the sinking feeling that would become so familiar over the years after 1966. As the England players entered the locker room after their loss, Ramsey greeted Mullery’s act of revenge.

“He (Ramsey) walked in, looked at me with a stern face, and said, ‘I’m glad somebody hit back on those bitches,’ Mullery recalls a few years later.

The boss of Yugoslavia has also been gentle with England. “Fatigue is what beat England as much as my team,” he said.

Either way, it didn’t change the outcome or make up for the hurt from the loss. Now, 53 years later, Southgate’s England are hoping to banish the ghost of failure for good. And give a firm kick to the past in touch.

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