England advanced to the last eight of the European Championships with a memorable victory over old rivals, Germany.
Much had been written in the build-up to the Wembley meeting, a match that evoked plenty of memories when the two sides met back in 1996, when Germany dumped the host nation into the semi-final phase on penalties before continuing to lift trophy against the Czech Republic.
This time, the two teams were thrown together in the final 16 phase, where England had topped their group despite three unconvincing performances, while The team finished in second place in the so-called group of death, which included France, Portugal and Hungary.
Germany started brighter at Wembley and had a number of chances to take the lead, with the choice of flock falling to Timo Werner, only for Chelsea attacker to see his effort smartly saved by Jordan Pickford.
England, however, grew into the game and so Harry Kane wasted a very presentable chance to take the lead before the break. The second half was a little more measured than the first, but just as it seemed to be heading for another 30 minutes, the hosts grabbed the lead; Raheem Sterling arrives in the 6-yard box to face Luke Shaws low cross to shoot home his third of the tournament.
Harry Kane has seen a shadow of his often productive self so far in the competition, but sealed Three Lions’ place in the quarter-finals when he finally got out of the mark with four minutes to play, bent to get to the end of a Jack Grealish post from the left wing to leave Manuel Neuer without a chance.
The victory provided some sort of redemption for manager Gareth Southgate – who missed the crucial penalty 25 years ago – and while admitting he can not fix the wound that night in ’96, he’s happy to give new memories before he reminds everyone of the job still to be done.
“I’m just so happy,” he told the BBC.
“I looked at the big screen and saw David Seaman up there. For my teammates who played with me, I can not change it, so it will always hurt, but what’s great is that we have given people another day to remember, and now we have to do it in Rome.
“I just thought it was a brilliant afternoon. We have talked about bringing enjoyment to the nation and afternoons that this is all about. The players were huge right through the team and so were the fans. It was like a good atmosphere I can remember at Wembley.
Same place. Same opposition. Same competition. Different result 🏴 🇩🇪 pic.twitter.com/tG6EjQvHx2
– The Football Faithful (@FootyFaithfuI) June 29, 2021
“We deserved to win, but I’m a party pooper, because if we go and don’t do it on Saturday, it doesn’t matter.
Despite his positive performance against the Czech Republic last week, Southgate chose to drop Jack Grealish back on the bench as he matched Joachim Low’s side and played with a three-back-back, and the English boss admitted he would have been ‘dead’ ‘if the result would have gone the wrong way.
“You know that if you change form, you choose certain staff over others, and it goes wrong that you are dead,” he said. “We had to walk around the way we believed. We felt that speeding in behind Harry Kane would give them trouble and I thought Saka and Sterling right from the start created that danger in their back line.
“Our whole team defended brilliantly throughout. It was a fabulous performance, I can not give the players enough credit. ”
There were questions about the admission of Raheem Sterling to the tournament opener against Croatia, although the Man City man has more than regained the confidence shown to him so far with three goals in four games. There have also been doubts about skipper Harry Kane after some anonymous shows so far this summer, though Southgate said he has always trusted the attacking pair.
“The [Sterling and Kane] both have to prove people wrong all the time, and Raheem has been huge for us for a while. We have that faith in him and trust in him, and his performances have been electric right from the start.
“For Harry, when you’re a center forward, you need those goals, I was happy to see the second go in.”