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Football - The Long Wait Ends

England 2, Germany 0

June 19, 2021

By Kevan James

There are football matches and there are football matches. Then there is England against Germany. It is, still, just a game. But it is also more than that. 55 years ago England beat Germany to win the World Cup – the only time an England team has become champions of the world and also the last time England beat Germany in a tournament match.

Above - John Stones celebrates via the BBC

There have been a couple of high points in between then and now, most notably a 5-1 win for England in a world cup qualifying game in Munich. It meant little however in the end as both nations went to the tournament and Germany reached the final, losing to Brazil in 2002. Up to this year, Germany has won four World Cups and three European Championships, and has played in a total of fourteen finals in those two tournaments. England has won one World Cup in the only final they ever reached in either tournament.

So there is balance to be reached – if England are to become a force in world football. It’s a big if, as there are still questions to be asked about this England team and the game in England generally. That however is for some other time. The here and now is that England won a tournament game, in normal time, beating the country many on this side of the channel consider to be their greatest rivals. 2-0, with both goals coming from open play; no penalties or free kicks.

Gary Lineker once said, “Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans win.” There is a psychological barrier with this fixture so when England do overcome it, is a noteworthy occasion, and there were times during this encounter that one could be forgiven for thinking that that normal service was being served. That was mostly due to England appearing quite happy to let Germany have the ball in their half, and indeed even around the halfway line and just into England’s half. Germany however, could do little with the possession they had and when they didn’t have it, England were again apparently content with keeping the ball in their half, passing sideways or backwards rather than venturing forward.

Pickford saves from Werner

The Guardian

Keeping the ball is something past England teams have not been very good at so it does make a welcome sight to see an England team that can do it. It has been that way at top international level and especially in tournaments, for decades. The trick however, is to know when to thrust forward and do so with serious penetration. England were patient and when Raheem Sterling or Bukayo Saka went on a run, Germany were troubled. It led to a flying save from Manual Neuer when Sterling cut inside and let fly a shot that needed saving. Germany too had their first half moment, with Jordan Pickford saving at the feet of Timo Werner but other than those two opportunities, neither side threatened, with England’s captain Harry Kane looking isolated, despite having an almost open goal denied by a last-ditch clearance from Hummels after another run from Sterling.

The second half began with a screamer from Kai Havertz, the Chelsea forward shaping his body well before letting rip a strike that Pickford tipped over the bar. Two injuries to England’s players resulted in the Germans sportingly putting the ball out so first Kane and then Sako could be treated. The Arsenal youngster was subsequently substituted for Jack Grealish and the Aston Villa talisman didn’t disappoint. Again Sterling caused havoc, running with the ball at the heart of the German defence, a quick pass to Kane who fed Grealish and he slipped the ball to the overlapping Shaw, the left back crossing low in to Sterling, who had continued his run to prod past Neuer to put England in front.

An old football adage has it that one is always at one’s most vulnerable immediately after scoring and Germany themselves had been caught by a classic counter by Hungary in their last group game. This time England were almost victims of their own euphoria when, in a rare error, Sterling gave the ball away and Thomas Muller streaked away with the goal at his mercy. You would back Muller every time and he has undone England in the past – not this time though as he screwed his shot wide. With ten minutes still to go, had that made the score 1-1, Gary Lineker’s comment may well have come true yet again.

Left - Kane heads the second goal

John Sibley / Reuters

Germany however do not have a Jack Grealish. Luke Shaw, looking every inch the kind of player teams need these days, broke forward into acres of space and with Germany backing away, could possibly have gone on a run himself but instead picked out Grealish and his cross was headed accurately in by Kane, the only moment during the entire ninety minutes the England captain found any space at all.

So England go through, Germany go out. France, remarkably, are out; The Netherlands are out; Portugal are out. Either Belgium or Italy will also depart after their clash, with Spain meeting Switzerland. The winner from the Ukraine v Sweden game will meet England in Rome next Saturday, July 3. Whoever England play will still present a different challenge and the game could be something of a banana skin.

England manager Gareth Southgate (occasionally and unfairly criticised by some supporters) said, “We talked about bringing enjoyment to the nation and afternoon’s like that are what it’s all about. The players were absolutely immense right through the team. The fans were as well - only 40,000 but it was as good an atmosphere as I can remember in Wembley. We played extremely well, I think we deserved the win but I’ve had to say to them straight away “Look, I’m the party pooper, because if we don’t capitalise on Saturday now then it doesn’t count for anything.”

Above - Southgate looks skywards

Richard Pelham/EURO 2020 Newspaper Pool

England however, might just be starting to build momentum - maybe. Defensively speaking, with no goals conceded in their four games played this far, these European Championships might present the country that invented football with a golden opportunity to finally add another trophy to that single example from more than five decades earlier.

© Kevan James 2021


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