England 2 Germany 0
The story hung over this whole game, although fervently the England players had denied it in advance. England’s 2-0 victory is set the ghosts of all those past defeats from Germany – in the 1970s, 1990s, 1996s and 2010. Everyone at Wembley suffered, presumably including England manager Gareth Southgate, whose penalty missed at London Stadium in the 1996 had sent England out.
On Tuesday, with England at two goals, the 40,000 admitted at Wembley burst into “Three Lions”, England’s anthem “30 years of injuries” – most inflicted by Germany.
This is the first elimination game England have won at the European Championships without the help of a penalty since 1968. But this is a new kind of England team, matured from their run to the World Cup semi-finals. the World in 2018, more professional, more organized and more nerve-wracking than its predecessors.
Football is a game of mistakes and a team that does as little as England did tonight will generally win.
As soon as a step was not placed, there was almost no blind spot, and the positioning was experienced, with England-wide players cutting supply lines for fears of German wings. Jordan Pickford was perfect on goal. The cliché behind England’s big games is that they “fought like lions”, but on Tuesday they operated more like computer-controlled games. After four games, they still conceded one goal.
It wasn’t fun. The cautious Southgate launched three central defenders even though Germany played for most of the match with only one forward attacking, Timo Werner. That left England overwhelmed at the bottom and subdued in midfield. Without a great passer on the team, the advances were difficult and rarely surprised the Germans.
No doubt this helps explain why England captain Harry Kane – deadly for Tottenham Hotspur this season – has spent most of the game prolonging his agonizing Euro 2020. Raheem Sterling and Bukayo Saka were much brighter, but for some periods England performed the unlikely task of calming Wembley during an elimination match against Germany.
In England’s old tradition of ignoring their creative players, many of them had started on the bench, but so little had been generated that in 68 minutes Jack Grealish was sent off for Saka. Kane was allowed to stay out, apparently in deference to his seniority. Seven minutes later, the switch paid off. Sterling started a move that went through Kane and Grealish for Luke Shaw, who put in a low cross as Sterling exploited the home side by six yards, his third England and tournament goal.
By that time Kane had been so poor that he was beginning to look like a case of identity theft. Perhaps he had been weighed down by the stress of being England’s biggest name in the face of ritual elimination from Germany, because after the first goal he went on to life, moving a lot more and going sweet. Four minutes from time he got his redemption: Shaw intercepted in midfield and fed to Grealish, who hit a cross at an awkward height that Kane leaned over to go home.
This old German team – with its coach, Joachim Löw, bowing out after 15 years, and four world champions since 2014 on the field – has come to an end. After all, England’s players have been on the field while fans have produced the most lively atmosphere most people will have experienced since the pandemic. “I just thought it was a brilliant afternoon,” Southgate told the BBC.
Returning center Harry Maguire, called the “star of the match” official, said: “It’s been a couple of tough years for everyone in this country, so to put smiles back on your face is to enjoy a beautiful moment. “.
England now find themselves in the easiest half of the draw, going through a quarter-final in Rome on Saturday, with Kane perhaps freed from his demons and with the semi-finals and final on the field at home at Wembley. Anyone who hasn’t known those “30 years of injury” (which has been around for 55 years) might be tempted to ask: what could be wrong?