England return home from the Eternal City standing just two games away from immortality.
A lethal double from back-to-form Harry Kane and two thumping set-piece headers from Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson sent Gareth Southgate’s men into the Euro semi-finals and a meeting with Denmark at Wembley on Wednesday evening.
Oh what a night this was, as England showed that it isn’t how you start a tournament that matters, but how you finish it.
History now beckons. A first major trophy since the World Cup of 1966 – and the chance to be remembered forever by a nation in desperate need of a unifying triumph.
Only four of Alf Ramsey’s heroes of yesteryear are still with us.
None of them will ever be forgotten – and now England’s Class of 2021 have a chance to stand with those giants.
The Danes will have something to say about it after their emotional march to the last four.
So too will the winners of the other semi-final between Italy and Spain.
Football will definitely be coming home this week, with Wembley set to stage the business end of this delayed tournament.
England can get better – and Southgate will know they must.
Denmark were European champions in 1992. Italy have won two World Cups and the Euros since England lifted their only trophy. Spain have the trophies to show for being the best team on the planet 10 years ago.
In ancient times, lions used to get a rough time across town in the Colosseum.
This was a night when three of them bit back.
Southgate made two changes to the team that thrilled the nation by beating Germany, with £80million Manchester United new-boy Jadon Sancho coming in for his first start of the tournament and Mason Mount coming in after his covid scare.
Social media went into meltdown as the country demanded to know why Jack Grealish and Phil Foden were on the bench.
But England needed less than four minutes to go ahead.
Raheem Sterling dash inside and smart pass released Kane and the skipper gobbled up the chance with mastery of someone who has now scored 37 goals for his country.
Ukraine needed 120 gruelling minutes to beat Sweden – and England’s passing and movement sapped them to a standstill.
Kyle Walker’s poor pass gave them a glimmer of hope, allowing Roman Yaremchuk to fire in a shot that was shovelled around the post by Jordan Pickford.
But it was a fleeting moment as England kept their heel on Ukrainian throats.
Sterling was a constant menace.
He sent one cross just behind Kane before Declan Rice let fly with a follow-up blast from 20 yards that almost took Ukraine keeper Georgiy Bushchan off his feet.
Bushchan got lucky again when Sancho’s fierce shot on the turn flew straight at him.
England had been quick out of the blocks in the first half – after the break they needed just 56 seconds to put the game to bed.
Luke Shaw’s free-kick delivery from the left made a mockery of Jose Mourinho’s recent sniping.
Harry Maguire’s meaty forehead did the rest with a finish of such brute force that Bushchan didn’t even bother to move.
In the 50th minute Kane scored again, bulleting a textbook downward header between Bushchan’s legs after Shaw had served up another delicious cross after Sterling’s flick had sent him in behind down the left.
Ukraine boss Andriy Shevchenko made a gesture of disgust that resembled a man throwing in the towel.
Kane was denied a hat-trick and the chance to stake his claim for another Golden Boot by a spectacular 63rd-minute save from Bushchanto to claw away his vicious volley.
But from Mount’s corner, substitute Henderson timed his near-post run to perfection to head home.
It was his first international goal in his 62nd appearance – and his throaty roar of celebration might have been heard back home.