It was cagey, it was nervy, but England finally freed a 55-year albatross from their necks as they downed Germany 2-0 at Wembley to book their place in the quarter-finals of Euro 2020.
England had not defeated the Germans in a knockout competition since their triumph in the 1966 World Cup final, but they secured their place in the last eight of the European Championships at Joachim Loew’s side’s expense.
It wasn’t pretty, with both sides showing nerves and England coach Gareth Southgate’s persistence with starting captain Harry Kane after three toothless matches receiving more than a few colourful hollers from the 40,000 fans inside Wembley.
All was forgiven as two late goals from Raheem Sterling and a very relieved Kane allowed England supporters to party in the stands. All of a sudden it was 2-0 and cue the renditions of such ‘classics’ as ‘Vindaloo’ and ‘Three Lions’.
For Germany and departing coach Loew, it was a limp exit to a tournament that they helped light up with their 4-2 win over Portugal in the group stages. It is the end for Loew — who is quitting after 12 years at the Germany helm — and possibly star striker Thomas Mueller, who could not get a grip on the game. Kai Havertz and Timo Werner grafted but could not get into the match either, with some clever and patient play from England dictating the show — chalk to the cheese of Monday night’s mayhem that saw 14 goals in two matches.
In fairness, England keeper Jordan Pickford made two terrific saves but England were dominant and fully deserved their victory.
A fairly turgid first half was transformed into a thriller when both managers turned to the bench. Serge Gnabry gave Germany a bit of bite, but the introduction of Jack Grealish once again spurred England on (why does Southgate not start him?) as the home side found another gear and began to push and push, eventually breaking the German rearguard and their spirit.
Sterling — the top scorer for England with a grand haul of two going into the match — once again was the man of the moment as he grabbed the opener with only 15 minutes to go (we know how England do in penalty situations). Then the roof — so to speak — lifted off Wembley as skipper Kane, dreadful in the three group games — stooped to nod home the second.
With Sweden or Ukraine awaiting next in the quarter-finals, they now have a great chance to go all the way, as the semis and final will be at Wembley in front of an almost full crowd. Interestingly, the quarters will be England’s first trek away from London as the will have to go to Rome for the last-eight match. Switzerland face Spain in Russia, Belgium take on Italy in Munich, while the Czech Republic battle Denmark in Baku of all places. Just don’t ask ...
Back to the moment, England truly deserve their place in the last eight, but they will face sterner tests than this limp performance from a poor Germany team.
But another clean sheet for England, with John Stone, Kyle Walker and the fit-again Harry Maguire all looking solid, they will take some breaking-down. Over to you Sweden, Ukraine et al.