Thursday, October 28

Germany’s reputation precedes them, but this team is the substitute | England

LLet’s try a quick thinking exercise. Team A, ranked No. 4 in the world, comfortably topped their group and are on a nine-match winless streak, with a defense that has only conceded five goals in their last 17 matches. Team B, ranked number 12, outperformed their group with four points and wildly inconsistent performances, haven’t kept a clean sheet in six games and lost 6-0 in November. Team A plays at home. Who do you think should start as favorites?

Treat this game as a blind taste test, with the tags, the story, and the emotional baggage stripped away, and England v Germany seems like a pretty simple proposition. It’s by no means a foregone conclusion, but all things being equal, England should probably win, especially with the home advantage. But of course tournament football, especially internationally, is not played in a vacuum. Mythologies and mindsets matter. Imponderables affect. History: well, you can accept it or you can ignore it, but you can’t erase it. It’s there, staring at you whether you want to look at it or not.

You could feel those old ley lines pulsing from the moment the final whistle blew in Munich on Wednesday night, putting Germany and England on their collision course. “He’s coming home,” tweeted the official account of the German national team after the round of 16 draw was completed. “Wembley, there is almost no better game,” Joshua Kimmich said. Manuel Neuer agreed: “Wembley suits us. It is a completely different game. You’ve seen it when we play against stronger teams. “

There was an instinctive optimism here, a supreme confidence completely out of step with everything they have been producing on the field. If a certain part of the English football psyche still looks at Germany with fear, then perhaps the same is true in the opposite direction. Somehow, you could feel the knotted anguish of a tense group stage that was instantly beginning to loosen. Guys, it’s England. Everything will be fine.

Many words have been written and spoken in recent days about England’s relationship with Germany: the whining wailing and self-reproach, the broad consensus that Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling will probably not be affected by the 1970 World Cup. finale and that Pizza Hut ad with Gareth Southgate and Stuart Pearce. This is indisputable. But it really doesn’t tell us much. Put it like this: England’s story against Germany – Gazza, Southgate, Lampard, Basil Fawlty – may not be strictly relevant here. But separately, the history of England and the history of Germany certainly are, because they speak of a key element in international team sport: self-image.

Paul Gascoigne on the ground after failing to reach a center at Wembley in 1996.
Paul Gascoigne on the ground after failing to reach a center at Wembley in 1996. Photography: Ross Kinnaird / Shutterstock

On the English side, it manifests itself most obviously in the maudlin music surrounding any national team deemed insufficiently dominant. No matter how hermetically sealed this squad may think it is from the conversation around it, these things still have a habit of seeping through: be it through the questions they are asked, the speech they are exposed to on the networks. social issues, including the growing nervousness of a quarter-full Wembley stadium as the penalty shoot-out approaches.

For Germany, history rears its head in more direct and obvious ways. “The deciding factor is that we not only have class, we have a mindset,” said Thomas Müller in an interview with Bild before the tournament. “These players know how to win, they have shown it. We are not just anyone. We feel like we can take it to the pitch. “| He cited the examples of Jürgen Klopp, Hansi Flick and Thomas Tuchel, the last three coaches to win the Champions League, two of them with English clubs, as proof that” the German mentality can succeed. ” .

Clearly, this is the exact opposite of an inferiority complex: the idea that football matches are won not only with shooting and tactics, but with some essential and insoluble quality that we can also call Germanity, something in the water that simply them become winners. It’s a trope that you come across over and over again. “Once Germany smells the blood, they are as good as anyone mentally,” Dietmar Hamann said in an interview with the Telegraph last week. “When they get to a semifinal, the mood is, ‘They won’t beat us.’

This could be a good time to point out that Germany have lost four of their last six semi-finals.

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Perhaps there is an element of self-fulfilling prophecy in all of this. Perhaps it is simply a good mental trick, a way to instill in each generation of German players the mentality of their predecessors. However, very little of this seems to match the solid evidence. A team that masters its emotions to the fullest is probably not the type that loses 6-0 to Spain and 2-1 to North Macedonia. A team slated for success probably shouldn’t need a stray 84-minute draw from Leon Goretzka to get into the knockout stages.

It is easy enough to say that these two teams are not loaded with history. But what if England misses a goal early, if Germany enjoys a long period of possession, if England misses a succession of chances, if the game ends in extra time and penalties? How will that feel? Confidence, faith, perseverance, clarity of thought – these are real components of success and are often at the mercy of unknown forces. England are perfectly capable of winning this match on the pitch. But your first and most important task is not to lose your mind first.

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