55 years of hurt did not end last night, but it could go a long way to doing so, as England beat Germany 2–0 in the biggest international match Wembley has hosted since its reopening in 2007.
Second-half goals from Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane wrapped up the victory for the Three Lions, who have now kept six consecutive clean sheets and conceded just once in 10 matches.
It means a quarter-final tie beckons against Ukraine, who hours later beat Sweden 2–1 after extra time.
An eruption of joy, ecstasy and elation poured out from players and fans as the final whistle went. This wasn’t just a victory—it broke a 21st-century record.
England hasn’t beaten a ‘big nation’ in the knockout phase of a major tournament since Euro 96, when we pipped Spain to win a last-8 clash on penalties.
So often the new Wembley has felt a bit sterile and dominated by the presence of the prawn sandwich brigade. You know — the suit-wearing corporate types who sip champagne, eat oysters and fail to return to their seats in time for the second-half whistle.
Not last night. This occasion was for ordinary people; football felt like it had returned to the fans. Only 43,000 were present, including 1,800 Germans, but you wouldn’t know by the decibel level.
Come full-time, there were tears of despair for the Germans. Conversely—tears of joy for every English man, woman and child.
This was our moment. This was our time. And we won’t apologise for it.
Luck Was Finally on England’s Side
This was never going to be an easy victory, and so it proved as the match was on a knife-edge for long periods.
Sterling had the first of England’s efforts, seeing his shot from 25 yards palmed away by Neuer.
Another saw the ball ricochet to Kane close to goal, but a heavy touch prevented him from pulling the trigger as Hummels desperately cleared.
Plenty of grit, courage and determination was shown throughout the team, but Pickford was arguably man of the match. When it mattered most, he came up trumps by making two vital saves whilst the game was scoreless to deny Chelsea duo Werner and Havertz.
After a lull in the second half, England reignited in the 75th minute. A move that started with Sterling ended with Sterling, as a mazy run eventually led to Grealish playing the ball out to Shaw, who pinpointed his cross perfectly for the Manchester City winger to tap home.
England survived the scare of all almighty scares when Muller had a golden one-on one-opportunity after a poor pass by Sterling, but skewed wide.
As Germany went gung-ho, England picked them off. Shaw won the ball just inside his opponents’ half and rampaged forward, before finding Grealish who crossed for the much-maligned Kane to nod in.
Soaking in the amazing @wembleystadium atmosphere.
— England (@England) June 29, 2021
That was that. Two goals in 11 minutes — both of which were crafted similarly—did the damage.
Such was the delirium for both goals, fans celebrated by spilling onto the turquoise tarpaulin that covered the first few rows of seats.
What might have been a different story — wasn’t. Crucially, England got through those tricky moments to secure a hard-fought victory against our arch-nemesis.
England’s Failure in Big Matches Ends
When it matters, it’s clear our record against the crème de la crème is not great. Who am I talking about? Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Portugal and the Netherlands from Europe. Add Brazil and Argentina to complete the list.
All eight have won a major tournament since the 1966 World Cup triumph and been in at least two finals. We are the anomaly.
Sure, we’ve beaten all those sides at some point over the past 25 years, but it’s always tended to be in friendly matches or qualifiers.
Who could forget the 5–1 hiding of Germany in 2001? We gloated for years whilst trotting about wearing printed T-shirts reminding our German friends. You’d think we had beaten them in a final. We hadn’t—it was just a qualifier.
Go back to the 2002 World Cup and we defeated Marcelo Bielsa’s woeful Argentina side 1–0, preceded two years earlier with a Euros victory against Germany by the same scoreline. However, these were group matches against below-par sides who were both dumped out at the first stage.
Home Advantage Matters
One advantage is this has effectively been a de facto home tournament for us. All our matches have been at Wembley thus far, and a win against Ukraine in Rome would guarantee a semi-final and possibly a final on our home patch.
Whilst a capacity of 43,000 on Tuesday was still better than the 22,500 cap that applied in the group stage, my only gripe is that a full house wasn’t there to witness it.
Still, at least if we make the semis, it will be lifted further to 60,000 and more fans will be able to enjoy what I’m sure will be a momentous occasion.
Complacency is now our biggest enemy. Some would say we only have to beat Ukraine and then either Czech Republic or Denmark in the semis to reach the final. On paper it sounds easy, but we know football is not played on paper.
Just look at how France and Spain surrendered 3–1 leads and were taken to extra-time in their respective matches against Switzerland and Croatia.
Or look at the final night of Group F—the so-called group of death—which saw all the sides switch positions. Germany were devilishly close to finishing bottom as they laboured to a 2–2 draw with minnows Hungary.
All those teams are now out of the competition. Likewise with the Netherlands, who lost to a Czech Republic side who only finished third in their group.
At Euro 2016, we were humiliated by Iceland in the last-16, a country with a population of just 350,000. It was an embarrassment.
The perfect opportunity has come for the Three Lions to seize the initiative and make more history. Don’t let it slip, don’t take anything for granted, and if we approach the next match as we did against Germany, chances are we’ll win.
In modern times, it’s been an infrequent experience for England to give us a prickle, a tingle, and to make the hairs on the back of our necks stick up.
They did all those things last night.
And there might just be a couple of even better occasions to come…