Thursday briefing: England, the final frontier

Top story: Squad makes history and dares to dream

Morning everyone, I’m Martin Farrer. If you had a big night, these are the top stories you need to get on track this morning.

England will play Italy in the final of the European Championships after a nerve-shredding 2-1 victory over Denmark in extra-time at Wembley sent fans into raptures all over the country. Gareth Southgate’s men kept their supporters on edge by falling behind, but captain Harry Kane clinched the win in the 104th minute to send England into their first final since winning the World Cup in 1966. The victory sparked jubilation in towns and cities where fans had congregated to watch the match on big screens. Piccadilly Circus in central London filled with cheering supporters after the match, with some climbing on top of a bus before the crowds were broken up by police.

Play Video 3:33 ‘It’s coming home’: England fans go wild after team secures Euro 2020 final berth – video

Amid delirious scenes at the national stadium, Southgate urged his players to conquer one more “massive hurdle” in Sunday’s final, which our writer Jonathan Liew says with some understatement is “certain to be one of this country’s biggest ever sporting occasions”. Although there could be heartbreak to come, he writes, “here, now, under dark skies and bright lights, England made us happy”. Some of those happy fans were at Hockley social club in Birmingham, where our reporter charted the ups and downs of an emotional night. “I can’t say anything more than it’s made my year,” said one tearful fan.

Bottleneck Britain – The economy is facing the worst staff shortages since the late 1990s thanks to the rush to reopen the country from lockdown and a sharp drop in overseas workers due to Covid and Brexit. The number of people available for work in June fell at the fastest rate since 1997, according to a survey, and recruitment firms are reporting difficulties in hiring across several sectors of the economy, led by transport and logistics, hospitality, manufacturing and construction. Our economics editor, Larry Elliott, says the Bank of England is concerned the shortage might translate into higher wage inflation. Companies from around the country explain how they just can’t find enough staff.

Covid cancellations – The growing number of Covid-19 infections sweeping the country is forcing hospitals to once again cancel operations, including cancer surgery, as they treat more virus cases and lose staff who are having to isolate. Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS trust has had to call off some planned non-urgent operations this week while it is also understood that the Royal Orthopaedic hospital in Birmingham is in a similar situation. The NHS in Scotland is also under growing pressure, doctors say. The UK recorded 32,548 new coronavirus infections yesterday and hotspots include Newcastle, Leeds and Durham, areas that are home to large student populations. A number of experts have warned the government that its plan to ease all lockdown restrictions on 19 July will be “dangerous”, while MPs say they have been deluged with emails from constituents concerned about the risk of reopening too soon. Tokyo will be placed on an emergency footing for the duration of the Olympics starting on 23 July, while there is growing alarm at the rise in cases across Asia. You can follow the latest developments in the pandemic at our live blog.

Haiti shootout – Security forces in Haiti say they have killed four members of a group of “mercenaries” who assassinated president Jovenel Moïse in his home on Wednesday morning. Police chief Leon Charles said late last night that officers were “still in combat with the assailants” and pledged that they would all be “killed or captured”.

Zuma surrenders – South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma has handed himself in to police after being sentenced to 15 months in jail for contempt of court. The 79-year-old tried to appeal against his jail term, which was handed down last week for defying an instruction earlier this year to give evidence at an inquiry into corruption during his nine years in power. Zuma argued that his life would be in danger in prison.

MPs’ Uyghur warning – Britain must take steps to prevent China’s atrocities against Uyghur Muslims by banning the import of Chinese cotton and solar panels from Xinjiang province, MPs say in a report today. They also urge ministers that no government officials should attend the Winter Olympics in Beijing next year, adding that without any action the government will be allowing China “to nest the dragon deeper and deeper into British life”.

Castle of consolation – Denmark might not have managed to beat England, but at least they’ve got the world’s largest sandcastle. The recently completed structure in the small seaside town of Blokhus stands 21.16 metres in height (69.4ft), making it more than 3 metres taller than the previous best, according to Guinness World Records.

Today in Focus podcast: can rape review change anything?

The government has said sorry to thousands of rape victims who have been failed by the criminal justice system. But survivors want cases reopened and justice finally done.

Today in Focus Rape law review Sorry your browser does not support audio – but you can download here and listen 00:00:00 00:34:18

Lunchtime read: the myth around the toppling of Saddam

Facebook Twitter Photograph: Gilles Bassignac/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

The toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Iraq in 2003 made worldwide headlines and came to be a symbol of western victory in Iraq. But today’s long read explores how there was much more to that story than first appeared and that behind it lay an attempt by the US military to create a myth around the war to crush Saddam’s regime.


Roger Federer was well beaten by Hubert Hurkacz, but the 39-year-old has not had a bad tournament after a long injury lay-off. Denis Shapovalov thanked the crowd for helping him into a semi-final against Novak Djokovic after five nip-and-tuck sets on No 1 Court on Wednesday, but it was as much a case of the No 10 seed needing to persuade himself as anything else. Australian Open boss Craig Tiley is warning international tennis players will not accept the same strict quarantine conditions required for the 2021 tournament.

Pressing ahead with the 2021 British & Irish Lions tour was always going to be a calculated risk but its ongoing viability is now teetering on the brink. The Huddersfield forward Kenny Edwards has been banned for 10 matches for putting his finger up the bottom of an opponent. Ben Stokes will lead out a team of fringe players and rookies in Cardiff on Thursday for the first of three one-day internationals against Pakistan, with a completely new squad – nine of whom are uncapped in the format – rustled up from county cricket in response to the crisis.


Exscientia, an Oxford-based firm that uses artificial intelligence to develop medicines, has won a $1.5m grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to create a Covid-19 treatment that also works for new mutations or other Sars viruses. The FTSE100 is set to dip 0.22% this morning, while the pound is on $1.378 and €1.169.

The papers

Facebook Twitter Photograph: The Guardian

The Guardian has a banner front of Harry Kane celebrating his winning goal and the headline “England’s dreaming: now final awaits for first time since ’66”. The Telegraph says “The history boys” and the Times also takes the long view with “England make history”. For the Sun it is “Probably the best feeling in the world” while the Mail puns “Kane you believe it”. The Mirror says “Finally”, while the Express has “And finally”. The i thinks we were seeing “Fairytale football” and the Star asks “Is this the greatest dream ever?”.

The FT leads with “Fintech Wise valued close to £9bn after record London direct listing” and football is also played down north of the border where the Scotsman leads on “Lockdown easing at risk as hospitals struggle”. The National’s lead is “Revealed: How BBC gives Tory Govt easy ride”.

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