Why Germany Euros clash offers England the perfect chance to herald a new era

·4-min read
Why Germany Euros clash offers England the perfect chance to herald a new era
 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

If a breathless, bonkers, bums-off-seats end to the group stages of the Euro 2020 confirmed anything, it is was the folly of England trying to map out their perfect route through the knockouts.

At various points on Wednesday night, Gareth Southgate’s side were on course to face France, Portugal and Hungary before finally securing a date with Germany in the round-of-16 next Tuesday.

Had they finished runner up in Group D — the so-called preferred route on paper — they would be looking forward to a Spain side that have rediscovered the art of scoring after a 5-0 win against Slovakia. Third place would have landed them Holland — one of only three teams in the competition with a 100 per cent record.

On the evidence of Wednesday night, even Hungary would have presented England with a serious test, after they twice led against Germany.

All things considered, having to play the Germans at Wembley is not the most daunting of prospects, especially as Belgium, Portugal, Italy, France and Spain are all on the opposite side of the draw.

Beat Germany and England will play the winners of Sweden-Ukraine for a place in the semi-final, which could be a battle of Britain with Wales. Not that we are getting ahead of ourselves.

As put by Gary Lineker when handling the rollercoaster of emotions that was France’s 2-2 draw with Portugal, it was impossible to work out what best suited Southgate’s side.

“You’re thinking, ‘Not Portugal because we never do well against Portugal’,” said the BBC presenter. “Then you’re thinking, ‘Not France because we never do well against France.’ Then you’re thinking, ‘Well, not Germany because we never do well against Germany’.”

It would be quicker to list the teams England do historically fare well against in European Championships.

The answer is Spain — and they are the only team England have beaten in the knockout stages of the competition, back in 1996. Even then they required a penalty shootout.

That hoodoo looked destined to end at the last Euros in 2016 when they faced Iceland after the group stages, only to suffer a humiliating 2-1 defeat that cost Roy Hodgson his job and set the country on course for the root and branch review that leads us to this point, and an examination of our progress by old rivals Germany.

If it goes to type, England will find any number of ways to crash out to their familiar foes.

So this will be an ideal opportunity to prove that this is a new England, unburdened by history and with the confidence to herald a new era for the national game.

After all, this team led by Joachim Low is nothing like the golden generation that won the World Cup in 2014.

It is a team that required an 84th-minute equaliser in Munich to avoid finishing bottom of Group F.

It is a team that in March lost a World Cup qualifier against North Macedonia — and in November was hammered 6-0 by Spain.

Germany’s last-gasp survival act on Wednesday night avoided a repeat of Russia in 2018 when, as defending world champions, they failed to make it out of the group stages. If this really is a forward-looking England squad, then that is the Germany they should be preparing to face — not the one with a weight of history behind them that on too many occasions has acted like a self-fulfilling prophecy when these nations meet.

 (Press Association Images)
(Press Association Images)

There can be no danger of Southgate’s team being caught cold, with Antonio Rudiger, Ilkay Gundogan, Leroy Sane, Timo Werner and Kai Havertz well-known to England’s players. Other key figures, such as Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, Toni Kroos and Thomas Muller, are the wrong side of 30, even if they are still quality players.

The point is England have the opportunity to rewrite the narrative where this rivalry is concerned.

Save for the 5-1 win 20 years ago, this has been a largely one-sided affair since the World Cup Final of 1966.

The last time they met at a major tournament — the 2010 World Cup — Germany were 4-1 winners, having previously knocked out England from Euro 96, Italia 90 and Mexico 70.

Even when the Three Lions managed to beat a sorry Germany at Euro 2000, both sides failed to qualify for the latter stages.

Perhaps the greatest concern for Southgate is the sterner competition the Germans have faced, after being drawn in the ‘group of death’ with defending world champions France and European champions Portugal.

By contrast, England’s toughest test was Scotland in a match that raised serious question marks over their ability to go deep into the tournament.

Yet their opening victory against Croatia laid to rest demons of the semi-final in Russia and Tuesday’s win against the Czechs provided some of their most fluid attacking football in the tournament.

While they would never hand-pick Germany at this stage of the competition, it is the type of mouth-watering clash that could really see their campaign catch fire.

And victory would provide them with a path to the final that could hardly be more inviting. Not that we are getting ahead of ourselves.

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