When England and Germany meet it’s always going to be an interesting game thanks to the additional narrative that the long-running football rivalry between the two nations creates.
Whilst it may be a rivalry that is felt more on this particular island than within the borders of our more successful footballing friends, I’m sure that once the locals saw England’s support, chanting and spilling their own delicious beer inside their beautiful Olympic Stadium, the desire to win became closer to mutual between the two sets of supporters.
Also, Germany have rather surprisingly not beaten England at home since 1987, instead saving victories over us for moments more likely to break the English nations’ hearts in complete unison.
Rather than focussing on such disappointments (Italia 90, Euro 96, South Africa 2010 etc), the memories of a more successful night for England some 15 years ago were discussed in the game’s build-up. September 2001’s magical evening at another of Germany’s impressive Olympic Stadiums, this time in Munich, was reflected on with the nostalgic pleasure that only Emile Heskey’s goal complete with John Motson commentary can create.
“Emile Heskey… could it be FIVE!? Yes it is!” – John Motson, September 1st, 2001
As Heskey wheeled away to the corner flag, celebrating Sven Goran Eriksson’s side’s fifth and final goal of the night, I was already in the garden of my family’s Basingstoke home recreating Michael Owen’s hat-trick in limited light. It was a historic night not just in English football but also in my then six-year-old life.
Only success at a tournament will ever top that evening in Munich for many English football fans of a similar age to mine, but Saturday’s evening in Berlin was a rare moment of joy for a fanbase more accustomed to berating their team than celebrating with them.
In many ways, the World Champions illustrated just how strong they are. Fielding a side with a couple of surprising names (Emre Can in a position which requires defensive nous and Mario Gomez, whose career has surely already peaked during his goal-heavy spell in the Bundesliga) the hosts moved into a two-nil lead without playing their best.
Meanwhile England had looked fairly decent, moving the ball quickly around members of their young team. Yet they had nothing to show for it but a two-goal deficit which would’ve been bigger had the linesman not incorrectly raised his flag to rule an earlier German goal out.
However, at two-nil down Roy Hodgson’s side either started to look like a genuinely excellent international team or alternatively played their role in a marketing scheme designed to get English people to spend more money on replica shirts, flags and beer by providing them with false hope and ambition for the upcoming Euro 2016.
Either way it was great to watch. First, an England corner eventually fell to Harry Kane with his back to Manuel Neuer in the German goal that seemed sufficiently defended as a result of the goalkeeper’s presence. Kane initially took the ball further from goal, looking even less likely to make the net bulge as he did so.
But then, seemingly out of ideas, the Spurs striker looked up into the night sky above the Olympiastadion. Past the glare of the floodlights floated the mirage of the late Johan Cruyff, whose recent passing marked a considerable loss for not just football but the world as a whole. Yet his legacy will live on forever, as evident here. Kane, with his face-mask aimed to the heavens was then blessed with the words of the Dutch visionary.
“Use the turn, Harry.” – Johan in the sky
Swiftly, England’s number nine channeled the legendary Cruyff, swivelling on the spot to leave his marker behind before lashing the ball into the bottom corner. This occurrence in it’s detailed entirety wasn’t visible on television, but it definitely happened.
Then, the next chapter in the ridiculous tale that is Jamie Vardy’s life was written. Off the bench he came, leaving a bench which also provided a seat to Danny Drinkwater in what was the most surreal sight of the night. Non-league, Fleetwood Town and the etcetera were muttered as Leicester City’s star striker jogged onto the field of play, cast and all.
Three minutes later, the moment so ludicrous that it was almost certainly going to happen happened. Darting towards the front post, Vardy met Nathaniel Clyne’s low cross with the heel of one of his headline making feet, notching the ball past the most talented goalkeeper in the universe. Greeted with a mixture of laughter and elation by myself and the friends I shared this monumental occasion with, Vardy ran off to the corner to celebrate. Whilst doing so, he was seen seemingly shaking his own head in disbelief at the sheer stupendousness of the high-budget, unrealistic box-office-flop-narrative that is his actual life.
“Vardy showed Manuel Neuer as much respect as he did to Simon Mignolet.” – Chaka Simbeye
The lack of realism continued as England then continued to play some lovely football. Triangles involving the impressive Delle Alli emerged, though the move of the night occurredwhilst still trailing 2-1. Kane and Welbeck combined to fashion a chance for the 19-year-old, but England’s number 10 for the night was unfortunate not to equalise, with Neuer’s leg denying his effort.
Alli’s night had gone too well however, as he was to miss the easiest chance of the game which would’ve put his side ahead and his face on the back pages. Thanks to Vardy’s typically terrifyingly aggressive pressing, England had turned a German goal-kick into an open goal for the Tottenham midfielder. At the age of 19, he can be forgiven for losing his nerve and spooning the chance.
The former ‘Milton Keynes Don’ was given the ending to the game that his performance deserved, though, as his Spurs team mate Eric Dier powered in a 90th minute winner with his big, talented head to ensure Alli’s miss would go almost unmentioned. Dier, himself impressive in a role which saw him anchor the midfield, capped off what was a great night for English football in Germany once more.
We as a footballing nation have been given hope and ambition whether it be false or not, thanks to what was an absolute night.
“Absolute night.” – Greg Stanley