LONDON – The England players said history doesn’t matter. None of Gareth Southgate’s squad members remember the pain of 1990. Only one or two remember the bitter regrets of 1996. For most people, the shadow Germany cast over England in football stretches back no more than a decade or so , to 2010, the latest update of England’s Great Decade Decade.
But this does not mean that it did not affect them. The mods sense of impending doom that afflicts England before every major tournament. Self-flagellation, endemic doubt, and feverish inquiry into every decision, however small: it all goes back to those defeats, to those days to which England was so close, yet so far, when Germany stood with all this country. – Or at least the football team – it can not be.
It was, all that, that they had to overcome to reach the quarter-finals of Euro 2020, in front of the raucous Wembley, a wonderful place, prepared to celebrate or to criticize at the first hint of hope or despair. And it was this, all that, that faded when Raheem Sterling was able to advance to England, just as nerves began to fade and ghosts began to swirl.
Suddenly, Wembley wasn’t half empty. It was full, it was furious, it was moving, a sea of people, a billowing of people, it seemed to shake a stadium which, a moment before, was full of tension and doubt, as it had been for nearly 60 years.
After a few minutes, Harry Kane settled down, and the place exploded again. The players may not remember, but the fans did, and now, at last, they could feel everything raising their backs: it wasn’t only Germany that was defeated, 2-0, but all the reasons for disbelief, all the reasons for fear.
England have not beaten Germany in a major tournament knockout match – when it really mattered – since 1966, the country’s crowning moment. Now, she had. Only then, at that moment, did the date no longer matter.