The unbelievable has happened, England have beaten Germany in a major tournament for the first time in 55 years. Josh Zealand takes a look back at the rollercoaster ride to get there.
Twenty-five years ago, England made it all the way to the semi-finals of Euro 96. They were beaten on penalties by bitter rivals Germany. Gareth Southgate, now England manager, missed the all-important penalty which sent the team home. The Germans would go on to win the Euros that year, and the heartbreak has been felt by England fans ever since.
It was the closest England had got to winning a major tournament since their one and only infamous World Cup victory of 1966. “Thirty years of hurt” is now 55 as England hope that this time, they have every single piece of the puzzle to go all the way.
In 2018, England reached the World Cup semi-finals in Russia. They were beaten by Croatia, but England fans had that belief back again, something not seen across the nation for a long time. England fans had been reconnected with their beloved team and inspired by their manager who knew all too well how much football meant to England fans and how much it hurt to lose.
Something had changed about English football and the national team. Fans were behind them again, the players inspired by heroes who had come before them, and a manager whose waistcoat became legendary for all the right reasons.
England’s route through the 2020 group stages
Poetically, England’s first Euro 2020 group game would be against the team that knocked them out of the 2018 World Cup: Croatia. It was a chance for some payback in front of their home fans at Wembley and though unconvincingly, England beat them 1-0. It was a solid start for England, and in fact, a perfect start. They didn’t need to go out all guns blazing, and a victory, no matter how, will always give a team a boost of confidence. Raheem Sterling was the goal scorer, notching his first major tournament goal in the iconic stadium he had grown up next to. Poetic justice for England.
Next up for England, a game against bitter rivals Scotland at Wembley. It was the first major tournament they had faced each other in since the group stage of Euro 96, where England came away winners by two goals to nil. The days of Seaman, Gascoigne, Shearer and Sheringham were now those of Pickford, Foden, Kane and Sterling. Could England re-create the famous win 25 years later?
The short answer, no. No, they couldn’t. England’s game against Scotland was full of excellent build-up, anticipation and a great tension which all came to one big anti-climactic goalless draw. I suppose it wasn’t a bad result for England and you must give credit to Scotland who brought their A game southwards to Wembley. Scotland had lost their opening fixture 2-0 to the Czech Republic, and so realistically needed to beat England to have any chance of progressing in their final game.
England dealt with the pressure and kept another clean sheet. England fans were somewhat downbeat after this performance, but there’s always a bigger picture behind the glory.
The ‘Three Lions’ went into their final game at home against the Czechs knowing that whatever happened, they would be through in either third, second or first place in the group. Czech Republic were currently top of the group, also having a win and a draw under their belts and a better goal-difference than England.
The permutations started to kick into the brains of England fans; who would they play next? Finishing top of the group meant they would face second place of Group F, the group where France, Germany and Portugal were located. Oops and Hungary, sorry Hungary.
And so, England went into the game knowing they would possibly come up against one of the world’s best in the last 16. But one game at a time eh?
Raheem Sterling slotted home again, this time with a terrific header on the back of a Jack Grealish cross to give England an early lead. From then on, it was game management for England, who comfortably held out for a 1-0 victory over the Czechs. The belief was somewhat back with the England faithful who had seen their team put in a much better performance than in the Scotland game.
So, who would England play next? Germany. Of course, it’s Germany. Oh god!
The knockout stages: Make your own history
If England are serious about winning a major tournament for the first time in 55 years, then you’ve got to beat the absolute best there is. The Germans arrived in the last 16 off the back of a group stage of highs and lows. No team had looked convincingly the best one there yet, and Germany fell under that same category. They were beaten 1-0 by world champions France in game one, before battering Portugal 4-2 in game two. However, they only managed a 2-2 draw with the Hungarians in game three, so no one really knew what sort of Germany team England were going to come up against.
None the less, plenty of England fans were still terrified at the fact we haven’t beaten a German side at a tournament since 1966. I wonder what happened that year?
The build-up began, the nerves slowly building, the pubs filled with tension and people dreaming, praying for an England victory.
Anthems sung, prayers made.
England seemed to start the game quite slowly, allowing the Germans plenty of possession and a few worrying free kicks that came to nothing. Half time loomed. A big chance for England fell to Harry Kane right at the end of the half. He was yet to score this tournament; he was yet to even get into a game really. The ball fell kindly for Kane in the box, who then attempted to round the keeper only for the ball to be swept away by the German defence.
Agonisingly close. Whistle blown. Half time.
The second half got underway, and it was very cagey. No team was really willing to push on at this point and so no gaps were created in behind either defence. A substitution was made for both teams. For Germany, Timo Werner being replaced by Serge Gnabry. For England, Jack Grealish came on for Bukayo Saka. This was a turning point and Grealish struck with great effect.
Seventy-five minutes in, a world beating Raheem Sterling ran past a couple of defenders and got a ball into Harry Kane on the edge of the box. Kane found Grealish who laid his pass onto a plate for the overlapping Luke Shaw. And then, slow motion, as Shaw whipped his low, left footed cross in behind the German defence right to the feet of the incoming Raheem Sterling.
1-0. 1-0 to England! Wembley erupted and so did the nation.
But it wasn’t over yet and if there was anything England fans didn’t want, it was extra time. Just minutes later, Thomas Müller broke free of the defence. He was through on goal, one on one with Jordan Pickford. This was Germany’s big chance, the opportunity they had been waiting for. England fans watched as Müller got closer and closer to goal, the net waiting to be hit. Somehow, he dragged his shot inches wide of the post. It was an enormous let off for England.
And then, Shaw and Grealish combined again, this time a role reversal. Shaw with a ball to Grealish who whipped the ball in on his left foot, right onto the head of Harry Kane.
2-0 England. Game over.
Wembley erupted again, perhaps this time with a huge sigh of relief as well as ecstasy as England had beaten Germany in a major tournament for the first time in 55 years.
The Quarter Finals
Next up, England will play Ukraine in Rome on Saturday July 3rd for a place in the semi-finals of Euro 2020. It is the only game England will play away from Wembley if they are to go all the way to the final of the competition.
Ukraine beat a decent Sweden team in extra-time after scraping their way through Group C in third place. Gareth Southgate and Andriy Shevchenko will lead their teams out into what is sure to be a monumental occasion at the Olimpico.