Euro 2020: England-Germany, a historic but one-sided rivalry
An inconsolable Gareth Southgate was walking up a staircase at Wembley when he heard a familiar voice calling his name. John Major was chasing him. “You don’t have to blame yourself for this,” the prime minister said. “You will feel bad for a while, but it’s not your fault.
It summed up how much his life had changed. Seven months earlier, Southgate had never played international football. Then came a moment that would define both his career and his life. England and Germany were tied after 120 minutes and after five penalties each. Southgate stepped forward, the man who felt too polite to say no. Andreas Kopke saved his shot on goal, Andreas Moller scored his, Germany qualified for the final and the man who finished Euro 96 holding the trophy and singing “Football is coming home. house ”was Jurgen Klinsmann.
It’s inevitable at the best of times, but especially now. Saturday is a quarter of a century to the day before this decisive semi-final. Euro 2020 is the first major tournament since Wembley has been among the host pitches. There was a cathartic element to Southgate’s handling of his country, bringing England, in the World Cup, to a first semi-final since 1996, using meticulous preparation to win a first penalty shoot-out since the quarter-final of Euro ’96, when it was not necessary to take a kick. Twenty-five years ago, his Aston Villa teammate Andy Townsend tried to console Southgate by listing the great players who had missed a penalty shootout; Michel Platini, Roberto Baggio, Zico. Perhaps the life of a footballer will be ended if his every English player beat Germany on penalties.
Or, indeed, if they beat Germany. The sight of Joachim Low’s side hanging out in Hungary in Munich on Wednesday may have been reminiscent of when an England inspired by Michael Owen beat Germany 5-1 at the Olympiastadion. Southgate was an unused replacement when England beat Germany in the group stage of Euro 2000.
Still, the fact remains that Germany have won every knockout game between them since the 1966 World Cup final. England produced outstanding performances in the semi-finals in 1990 and 1996, but Germany did. won on penalties. England took a 2-0 lead in the 1970 World Cup quarter-finals, but West Germany ended his run as a starter and Bobby Charlton’s international career. They drew 0-0 in the second group stage in 1982, but the Germans then reached the final. In 2010, the young German team put the last nail in the coffin of England’s supposedly golden generation.
Fabio Capello was passed and his team was passed and outclassed in a 4-1 gutting. Mesut Ozil exposed England’s historic confidence failures in the 4-4-2. A young Thomas Muller scored his second and third international goals. England have had a history of bad luck with historic echo: a shot from Frank Lampard hit the bar, bounced over the line and came back again. Unlike Geoff Hurst’s runner-up in the 1966 World Cup final, the goal was not awarded.
It could be described as one of the great rivalries in international football, but the results that matter most since 1966 suggest that it is rather one of the most one-sided. Since then, Germany has had more competitive rivalries with Italy, Argentina, France and the Netherlands. England’s fixation with 1966 stems in part from the fact that there was no sequel to a time when Germany won three World Cups and two European Championships.
For England, there were horrific illustrations of the remoteness of the days of 1966. They lost Gordon Banks and Martin Peters in 2019, Jack Charlton and Nobby Stiles in 2020. Only four of their Cup winners world are still with us and Bobby Charlton has been diagnosed with dementia. The 1990 and 1996 teams stood out as visible reminders of the past, although each found their ambitions frustrated by German stubbornness and excellence over 12 yards.
Southgate has become the most eloquent ambassador of English football, redefining patriotism without chauvinistic references to world wars, but the statesman must now be a football strategist. It could end Low’s long reign; given the draw afterwards, there is a chance to bring England into the kind of chances they rarely experience, but which Germany often do.