The 1966 final has cast a shadow over past five or so decades: in some ways it’s difficult for those of us that do not have our own memories of the game to really believe it happened and that we actually beat the Germans, despite being witnessess to the win in Belgium in the European Championship and the simply astonishing 5-1 win in September 2001.
Playing the Germans in tournament football always seems to signify the end of an era. The 3-2 quarter final defeat in 1970 – after leading 2-0 – ended England’s reign as World Champions: just over two years later a 3-1 home defeat in the European Championships was the beginning of the end for Alf Ramsey: it was another eight years until we qualified for the final stages of a major international tournament. In 1982 two of the best players we had in the 1970s – Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking– made their only appearances in the World Cup in a 0-0 draw that knocked us out of that tournament, Keegan famously missing a late header. A similar story with the 1990 semi final: no-one would have predicted that game would have been Paul Gascoigne’s last game in the World Cup. Even when we hosted the European Championships in 1996, the Germans beat us. Last game at Wembley: Germany won.
So before this afternoon’s game, let’s not forget that our record against them since an Alan Shearer goal beat them in Euro 2000 is three wins and two defeats. And that they have never beaten us in a tournament game over 90 minutes in neutral territory.
There’s every reason to be confident of an England win within the context of what’s already happened in this tournament. The draw with the USA was dire, but the USA won the group and only crashed out to Ghana last night in extra time. The Algeria game was terrible and looking back on it that result cost us the group rather than Landon Donovan’s late goal against the Algerians; we’re in the ‘difficult’ half of the draw because we deserve to be. The Slovenia game was a must win and England woke up and started to play something like tournament football.
We’ve not had anyone sent of yet (don’t worry, there’s plenty of time for that), we’ve not had the opportunity to thrash a poor team with ten men and we’ve not lost a game to the team that eventually finished bottom of our group have we? We also have an Italian coach: if you’re wondering why that’s significant, look at Italy’s record against Germany in the World Cup Finals. The Germans have never beaten the Italians and that includes two semi finals and a final. They won’t beat them again this year either!
A couple of weeks ago, Fabio Capello was being ridiculed everywhere; tomorrow, the red tops might be demanding an honorary knighthood. But remember that if we win, there’s a good chance we’ll be playing Argentina. A bit like beating the Cybermen in order to face the Daleks.
Here’s the team.