“GRAMareth Southgate, all England is with you! “Yet is it? As Southgate prepares to send his England team injury free, defensively intact and quietly determined to the round of 16 tie against Germany on Tuesday night, two things stand out.
First of all, it’s hard to remember such a talented and well-trained England team approaching a tournament tie so grudgingly praised in their own country. Welcome to England 2021, a place where even football is feeling a bit queasy right now. And secondly, like it or not, criticize the simplicity, call attention to the process if necessary, but this is a moment that will define the progress of Southgate’s England.
It is a poignant detail from Three Lions 98, the original version’s little cool little brother, that its opening notes are the message of doom shouted by Jonathan Pearce when Southgate, England’s sixth penalty taker, stepped to the side of the ball in Andreas Köpke in June 1996.
Southgate seemed like a hilariously minor figure at the time, an element in the broader cosmic joke in English football. Even our operatic failures are performed by nice men named Gareth of Thornton Heath. It’s one more rarity now that his carefully and quietly impressive five-year reign as manager should have become yet another dividing note in popular culture.
Such is the temperature of the times that it is hard to avoid the feeling that there are some, for whom Southgate represents the wrong kind of England, cautious, confident, indifferent to progressive Marxism or the cultural significance of Free Jack, who might feel a nuance. . validation in case England euros end on Tuesday.
All England is with you. More or less. Until it is not.
Here’s at least one reassuringly bold final note, a moment of finalty for the Age of Gareth. The defeat at Wembley will unleash a wave of exhausting negativity. But victory will provide an indisputable glow of authority, validating every decision made on the way to that point.
Nobody seriously expects England to win tournaments. But this is eminently feasible. He squints a little and England faces a team that has already conceded five goals in these Euros, which lost at home against North Macedonia and was beaten 6-0 by Spain, whose own coach is in the last days zombified of his own reign, and whose main attacking threat managed four Premier League goals in 27 games last season.
It is only the shadow play, the noise behind the noise, that makes Germany at Wembley an Everest to climb. But then things like history and emotion do matter on these occasions.
This week Kai Havertz called this game “a meeting of equals,” but it really isn’t. To speak here of a genuine confrontation reminds us of Cliff Richard’s recent autobiography, in which he spoke “for the first time” about his deep personal rivalry with Elvis Presley, whom he never knew or had anything to do with.
Could The King’s shadowy hand have been behind Cliff’s “jinx” tours of America where no one bought tickets? How else can you explain the fact that Elvis was “never home” when Cliff showed up at Graceland, leaving his dreaded rival to pay for a guided tour instead? England-Germany has nuances of the Cliff-Elvis dynamic, the serial winners versus the hopeful don’t take away.
England have won two of their last 10 competitive matches against Germany or West Germany. And hear this: England’s men’s soccer team has only beaten once in its history in a knockout tournament game a nation that had previously won the World Cup. One time! That victory was the 1966 World Cup final.
The identity of your opponents, the weight, the weight of playing “The Germans” goes into this. But the real baggage that England carries is its own 70-year history of tournament failures, a failure not due to a psychological block, not war, not bad luck, but not being good enough when it mattered. .
England is good enough and Germany bad enough to break that sequence. This is also, so we don’t forget, a team that has tended to clean up those cobwebs.
Under Southgate, England won a penalty shoot-out in the World Cup. They reached a semi-final despite not having true world stars. For those who feel the need to say “well, they only beat the B-listers”, England have also failed to beat their fellow B-listers many times. See: Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Slovenia, USA, Etc. Progress is actually winning these games. It is the mistaken English exceptionalism that says that only Brazil and Spain really count.
Germany has clearly come out of that front row. Other opponents have exposed some vulnerability. There is even a clear indication of how England could try to score against Jogi Löw’s team. Look back and all the goals that Germany have conceded in this European Championship have come through a diagonal pass into space on the side of the centrals.
In general, this has been from the attacking left side. France’s winning goal, Kylian Mbappé’s disallowed goal, even Cristiano Ronaldo’s breakaway – all of this involved a pass into space left vacant by a glitch in the way Germany’s three-man line intersects his sides.
Hungary’s goals came from long diagonal passes, aggressive running and weak defense. There is a route to goal here, one that Raheem Sterling in particular could try to exploit given his strength is the ability to tack into exactly that space in the left inner channel.
Again, a lot will depend on England’s level of offensive ambition. There will be the usual call to mourn the chaos and let Gareth’s dogs escape. The best way to beat a team whose weakness is defense might be to attack.
At the same time, Southgate will note that Germany has also tended to score through crosses from advanced positions. This may or may not be a time to go down the throat. But the battle on the flanks and the ability to counterattack in those spaces could be a factor.
The stage is clear for both teams. Havertz’s knee injury has healed. Only Antonio Rüdiger (cold) and Ilkay Gündogan (head injury) missed the last training session in Bavaria, while Robin Gosens is also a doubt. For Southgate and England, five years later, a moment of clarity is at hand, for better or for worse.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism