Hungary. France. Portugal. Germany. It could have been any one of these four teams from Group F that England would face in the last 16 - and at one point, each one was penciled in for a Wembley showdown, such was the topsy-turvy end to the so called group of death. But in the end, it just had to be the Germans didn’t it.
I think we’re drawn to each other like magnets. But make no bones about it – there’s no magnetic attraction between us. In fact, there is no greater football rival for England than them and there is very good reason why – they always win when it really matters.
There have been several standout clashes that have fostered the animosity; they’ll always feel aggrieved for the 1966 World Cup final defeat (England 4 West Germany 2; Geoff Hurst got a hat-trick and yes, his second did cross the line…) but ever since then, whenever the two have met, the Germany have proven too strong.
They got their revenge for ’66 just four years later (England 2 West Germany 3) but as I was born in ’78 it is the games over the last 30 years that obviously stick out for me. And they’re all extremely painful. Penalties were not a ‘thing’ for England before Italia 90. Bobby Robson’s men had made it to the World Cup semifinal and the match against West Germany had ended 1-1 and it went to a shootout. No big deal; we had the sweet left foot of Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle to count on - they would burst the net… They didn’t. Pearce’s shot was saved and Waddle’s is still probably travelling to the moon. England were knocked out and our painful affair with penalties began.
Six years later, we had the chance to put that wrong right. England and Germany were tied at 1-1 in another semifinal (European Championship) and although Waddle had retired by then, veteran Pearce stepped up to vanquish his ghosts. Germany went ahead in sudden death and current England boss, Gareth Southgate, stepped up. He had to score or Germany would win. He didn’t look confident at all. He ran up unconvincingly and… his effort was saved. Germany had done it again.
Then the two met at the 2010 World Cup and had there been goal line technology, Frank Lampard’s shot which struck the underside of the bar and clearly bounced over the line, would have been given. But, the referee and linesman both failed to spot it. It was a huge turning point in the game which Germany went on to win 4-1.
Now, the two face off again tomorrow night and there will be 40,000 fans at Wembley desperate for an England win. We have beaten them since that ’66 triumph (who could forget the 5-1 mauling in the 2002 Euro qualifier?) but can we overcome them this time? Germany coach Joachim Low is to step down after the tournament and he will want one last big result before he does. They haven’t looked that convincing so far, but neither have we. It could be a cagey affair that goes all the way to the dreaded penalty shootout. And if it does, surely it will be our turn to celebrate?
If only football was that kind…