Gareth Southgate never wanted to frame it as revenge for him. Rather than reflecting on his history, he urged his England team to make their own. They did. For the first time since the 1966 World Cup final, England have beaten Germany in a knockout game of a major tournament.
It may have been cathartic for Southgate, a quarter of a century on from his Euro ’96 penalty miss, but if his blueprint was deliberately dull, ultimately it was successful. Raheem Sterling, who was brought up in Wembley, scored for the third time this month at England’s national stadium. His 15th goal in his last 20 caps showed his transformation into a goalscorer. Harry Kane got a belated first of Euro 2020 to end Germany’s participation.
In the process, they brought an era to an end. Joachim Low made Germany world champions during his 15-year reign but it is finally over. This was not the embarrassment their 2018 World Cup campaign was, but it amounted to an underwhelming end. Germany were not outclassed but it is England who are quarter-finalists and in the favourable half of the draw. An opportunity beckons after they recorded a belated first knockout win in 90 minutes in a European Championships.
The ends justified the means. There was mayhem on Monday but goals have been at a premium in England games of late. It was no surprise that chances were as well. At times there was an impasse, with excitement rationed as rivals cancelled each other out and extra-time increasingly feeling an inevitability until Southgate bowed to popular opinion.
The crowd had been calling for Jack Grealish long before his introduction. They got their wish and he contributed to the breakthrough, feeding the ball wide to Luke Shaw. The Manchester United man provided a low cross which Sterling, who had started the move, finished from close range.
Sterling had been England’s only scorer in the group stages but he finally had company on the scoresheet. Shaw and Grealish were involved again, the Aston Villa man crossing for Kane to stoop and head in. Vindication for Southgate, perhaps: Kane had been so poor earlier that many another would have substituted him. He had missed the best chance of the first half, a poor touch allowing Mats Hummels to make a goal-saving challenge, and was so anonymous he only had two touches in the opening 30 minutes, but Southgate left him on.
He had swapped to a back three, bringing in Kieran Trippier as a right wing-back. England initially looked uncomfortable in their new — and old — system. They afforded Germany control of the midfield and Low’s side made the more progressive start.
Leon Goretzka scored the goal to take Germany into the last 16, was promoted to the starting 11 and had the first shot, albeit a tame effort that Jordan Pickford held. Yet his running power posed a threat and when he ran on to an incisive pass from Thomas Muller, Declan Rice brought him down, incurring a caution and prompting calls from Toni Kroos for a red card.
When Kai Havertz delivered a defence-splitting pass for a Chelsea teammate, Timo Werner’s shot was well blocked by Pickford. Even with so many defensive-minded personnel, England still found Havertz and Muller elusive and Pickford earned a fourth consecutive clean sheet by tipping a half-volley from Chelsea’s Champions League winner over the bar.
By then, England had been dragged back into the game by their youngest starter. Bukayo Saka displayed a fearlessness and a willingness to run at defenders. Sterling showed his sharpness again with a curling shot that Manuel Neuer parried well. Trippier’s delivery was a reason for his selection and, from his cross, Harry Maguire headed over.
But Maguire and John Stones were outstanding in defence, as Hummels was at the other end, as the game drifted. Then Southgate acted, replacing Saka, who had faded, with Grealish. But there is a cliché to never write off the Germans, and they had a golden opportunity to level, Havertz releasing Muller. Clean through on goal, he angled a shot wide and instead another World Cup Golden Boot winner finally opened his account in the European Championships. When Kane scored, England knew they had exorcised some ghosts from the past. And not just Southgate’s.