Happy Ending for Southgate as England Knock Out Germany

Getty Images/Catherine Ivill

England 2-0 Germany

  • Late goals from Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane helped England reach the quarter-finals of Euro 2020 at the expense of Germany
  • England will now travel to Rome having beaten Germany in a knockout match for the first time since the 1966 World Cup final

There was a familiar feel to Thomas Müller cantering through England’s backline unchallenged. The Thomas Müller of Bloemfontein in 2010 would have buried it. But the ball trickled past Jordan Pickford, and then the post. It was in that moment that you looked at your friend, raised your eyebrows in unison, and started to believe that this England–Germany wasn’t following the usual script.

England came into the round of 16 tie winless in their last seven meetings with Germany at Wembley. But none of the seven had been this England. This was the 13th Wembley meeting between the sides. Unlucky for some. But not for this England.

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The home supporters were divided as ever ahead of the fixture. England haven’t played a back-three since November. Was a return to that formation to match Germany giving a bit too much respect to truly erratic opponents? Was it a tactical masterclass that would nullify them beautifully? Like so much in this fabulous sport, the way the 90 — or 120 — minutes panned out would uncover the answer.

42,000 fans inside Wembley bobbed and bellowed like they were twice that many. England came out and didn’t jump in. They didn’t look frantic. They’d spent a week preparing for this game, but it looked like a lifetime. Germany may have had the better of the first few headers and volleys and passes, but Gareth Southgate’s team rode the storm rather than their luck.

Big games call for big players. Raheem Sterling stands at less than 5 ft 8, but has been England’s talisman so far this summer. Into midfield he dropped, quickly he turned, forward he sprinted, and powerfully he shot. World Cup winner Manuel Neuer has made a stellar career from rising to these moments though. He got across well and pushed wide England’s first opening. Wembley called out for more of that please.

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Once Harry Maguire had knocked two headers wide when he ought to have scored at least one, Germany found their moment. Timo Werner spent most of his first season in the Premier League either offside or complaining once his goals had been disallowed for offside. But he is a different proposition for his national team. His Chelsea teammate Kai Havertz put him through on the counter, but Jordan Pickford smothered Werner’s shot.

Control of the first half jumped between Germany and England. No-one was quite in the ascendency. But these were still the early stages. This tie can go on and on and on in knockout matches. And yet Harry Kane could have eased some growing nerves just before the break when his sluggish touch denied him a one-on-one with Neuer. The next thing you knew it was half-time. Fine margins; no margin yet.

Two nations took a deep intake of breath at the break. Another was coming. Only two minutes after the restart, the German supporters in the National Stadium thought they had their golden moment. The ball fell nicely for Havertz, who lined up a powerful volley. His clean strike flew between Manchester United pair Luke Shaw and Harry Maguire like a river parting the hills. Pickford leapt up and tipped the ball over acrobatically. It was a save to match his performances so far at Euro 2020 — nothing short of outstanding.

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The space in behind Germany’s slow back-three was a major talking point beforehand. It never quite materialised. But like Southgate’s team have wanted to develop flexibility as a unit, Sterling adapted and instead ran right into the melee. He fed it into Kane, then it was Sterling, then Jack Grealish, and then the man over: Luke Shaw. Kane and Sterling took their places just outside the six-yard box, begging for a low ball. Shaw delivered and Sterling duly slotted home his third of the tournament.

Up off their seats sprang an entire nation. For a minute or two, there was no silence anywhere. Germany looked forlorn. Unlike in past meetings, it was England who ran to the corner flag at blistering pace to celebrate with Sterling and to look up at three tiers of Wembley Stadium to be met not with a void sea of red, but with faces of sheer jubilation.

The needless free-kick conceded by Maguire immediately from kick-off served as a reminder that Germany wouldn’t simply lie down. Havertz struck the wall, but his side would be back again almost instantly. Southgate’s players sought to hold on to the precious lead they had, but all blueprints go out the window once a back-pass as poor as Sterling’s is played. Suddenly England were on the backfoot as Havertz put Müller in.

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The Bayern Munich forward caused Fabio Capello’s England all sorts of problems 11 years ago in South Africa. The fresh-faced attacker that he was at the time, he was burdened by nothing and felt no pressure. Here the conditions were very different. Germany desperately needed his composure, but composure is worth nothing if a striker loses orientation. The ball looked destined for the net. Instead it struck the advertising hoarding. England’s first major let-off.

You don’t get too many chances like those when it’s England versus Germany. Paul Gascoigne and Darren Anderton will tell you that.

And like so many matches in this European Championships, it turned on a moment. That Müller moment. A lazy pass into midfield was quickly pressed and won on the halfway line by Shaw. He drove forward slowly, given the freedom of Brent by Germany’s vacant midfield. A prod out wide to Grealish offered the chance for a cross. A delivery into Harry Kane in this tournament was a collector’s item. Kane did collect. He stretched his neck muscles and directed a true striker’s header that bounced high beyond Neuer into the top corner.

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Back came that England jubilation — but this time as unbridled joy. The clock read 86 minutes. This cup tie had been won by England. Ten minutes of Southgate-inspired game management came and went, with Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos — a midfielder of supreme pedigree — resorting to simply standing between his centre-backs and pumping ball after ball after ball into the England box. But Maguire, John Stones and Kyle Walker had been fearless in the air all evening. Every delivery in found its way right back to Kroos.

Before Pickford even had time to make a save to preserve his fourth clean-sheet from four in this competition, Danny Makkelie blew the final whistle. England players spent an age lapping the perimeter of the stadium, hugging each other and cheered on by the Three Lions’ raucous supporters.

Germany’s stars, many of whom will return to their Premier League clubs come August, consoled one another. There were one or two tears. Joachim Löw didn’t cry, but this was as crushing a defeat for him as for any of his players. His 15-year stint as Germany manager included winning a World Cup, a Confederations Cup, coming second at Euro 2008, and reaching a good few semi-finals. It ended for him here at the hands of Kalvin Phillips of Leeds, Kieran Trippier of Bury, and the quiet philosopher Gareth Southgate.

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Southgate said afterwards that his penalty miss against Germany at Euro 96 still kills him, even 25 years on. Even after all he has achieved in his five-year tenure as England boss. He rightly admitted that looking backwards helps no-one. Preparing for what’s to come makes much more sense.

A quarter-final in Rome is what’s to come. But England’s players and fans won’t want to move on just yet. Southgate will want to ready his side for Saturday, but to not revel at least for tonight in a victory as magnificent as this is to completely miss the point of it all. Good on professional England for moving on and looking ahead almost instantly. But, make no mistake, that won’t be a quiet coach journey back to St George’s Park.

The tears were Germany’s, the memories England’s. Into the third week of Euro 2020 go charismatic yet modest England. No need for Pizza Hut adverts this time.

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