In the end, the extraordinary thing was how simple it all seemed. England, with their slow and methodical build-up, kept Germany at bay and, although it took forever to break through, it turned out that Jogi Löw’s team had no response. Tuesday’s 2-0 victory in the round of 16 of Euro 2020 at Wembley Stadium turned the nervousness into that it took so long to arrive, but the truth is that everything was quite comfortable for the hosts.
England’s games are always played with the baggage of history, especially against Germany. The rivalry may be largely one-sided given the dominance of games between Germany’s teams since 1966, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an additional advantage, at least on the English side. And of course it’s not just about football as the stupid English gang, admitted to a game for the first time since the COVID-19 restrictions went into effect, demonstrated with their endless repeats of the “Great Escape” theme.
Perhaps because of that sense of English failure, the previous game that dominated the preparation was not the 1966 World Cup final, when England won 4-2, but another encounter at Wembley, the Euro 96 semi-final, when England lost on penalties. and now coach Gareth Southgate missed the decisive shot. And that perhaps obscured a key part of Southgate’s planning.
In 1966, England coach Alf Ramsey hit the 4-4-2 formation with which England would finally win the World Cup in a friendly in Spain in December 1965. He then hid the form for six months, taking it out only for The Last England’s warm-up game, away against Poland, when he was sure very few people were watching. For the group stage, he used the more familiar 4-3-3, playing against Alan Ball or Martin Peters plus one winger. England was heavy, but they did it, without conceding a goal, with two wins and a draw. Only then did Ramsey return to the system that he believed would win the tournament, playing Ball and Peters together at 4-4-2.
After the last World Cup, Southgate moved away from his 3-4-3 / 3-5-2 hybrid to a more fluid 4-3-3. It brought more exciting football, notably the 3-2 victory over Spain in the Nations League, but it also made England vulnerable on defense. So last year he went back to the bottom three. In that form, England beat world number one Belgium at Wembley, before surprisingly returning to the last four in March. But perhaps the switch to a three was always the plan, and Southgate was prepared to tolerate a boring group stage (two wins and a draw, and, for the first time since 1966, a group stage completed without concession) before unleashing his training in the tournament. .
If that was the plan, at least in the abstract it was good. England have too often been caught in the past aiming for utopia, vainly chasing impossible dreams and thus unable to adapt to specific opponents. But since Southgate had emphasized how closely he had watched Portugal and France, winners of the last European Championship and the last World Cup, respectively, and tried to model England’s game on his pragmatic approaches, there must have been a wave of concern when they both collided. in the last 16. This has been a tournament of intense attacks in a heady and unexpected way; it was impossible to avoid the idea that Southgate had been caught fighting in the last war. Instead, he and his side eliminated the last remaining side of the tournament’s acclaimed Group of Death.
After the absurd thrills on Monday, this returned to a more cautious rate. England overcame a nervous start to get a little better from the first half, and only a slightly strong touch from Harry Kane, who again looked off the beat overall, allowed Mats Hummels to make a vital tackle. Jordan Pickford spectacularly overturned a shot from Kai Havertz shortly after halftime, but the game then resumed the familiar England pattern by testing slowly and getting nowhere quickly.
But finally the trickle of pressure said it. Raheem Sterling stepped forward and passed a pass to Kane, who left it on substitute Jack Grealish. He waited to play a ball out at the perfect time for Luke Shaw, whose low center was converted by Sterling for his third goal of the tournament. It was also, interestingly, the first goal England had scored after the 62nd minute in their last 12 matches of the tournament.
Yet despite all the talk about control, there is always an element of chaos. A short pass from Sterling resulted in Thomas Müller flying towards the goal. His shot beat Pickford but went over the post, a remarkable launch. And that was all England needed. With four minutes remaining, Shaw gained possession at the midline and slipped Grealish, whose cross was led by Kane as a wave of relief swept through Wembley.
England, at last, had won their first knockout match in regulation time at the European Championship. Sweden or Ukraine await in the quarter-finals in Rome, and beyond that, the rest of the road leading to a possible first European trophy lies at home.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.