As part of a video montage shown to the England team during their first day of camp this summer at the St. George’s Park Sports Complex, the defining moment of Gareth Southgate’s career as a player was shown. His decisive failure to take a penalty against Germany in the semifinals of Euro 1996 gave the center-back an undesirable place in the catalog of disappointments suffered in a 55-year period that dates back to the only time that the combined English lifted their only international trophy to date: the 1966 World Cup.
Southgate has meticulously sought to redefine the national team’s relationship to his past, drawing on his personal experience to highlight why penalty shootouts are something to prepare for, rather than pathologically feared.
One of the biggest challenges for Southgate during his time as a manager has been to incite a mental change, leaving behind the heavy burden of history to create a story of his own within a high-pressure environment.
After Southgate took over from Roy Hodgson after the elimination of the “Three Lions” at Euro 2016 in the round of 16 at the hands of modest Iceland, Tuesday’s meeting at Euro 2020 serves as a highlight of a five-year journey to reach the same instances; although this time they will have to play in the middle of a scenario full of nostalgia for Eurocup ’96 felt throughout their country, and which has assumed increasing relevance since the confirmation that Germany would be England’s rival in this direct elimination round. (Live on ESPN / ESPN + at 12 noon ET, in English only in the United States).
In many ways, the clashes played over the years between England and Germany encapsulate the eternal struggle that is felt within the national sports consciousness: the lasting joy and hope created after winning the 1966 World Cup final, contrasted with the eliminations. suffered in the tournament in its editions of 1970, 1990, 1996 and 2010.
25 years ago, Germany evidently enjoyed the moment, appropriating the anthem of the “Three Lions” of the English team, when the Germans sang “Football comes home” on the balcony of the Civic Center in Frankfurt during their celebration with the trophy of the Euro ’96. The song reached number 16 on the German music charts that summer, and could be heard on the streets of Berlin in 2014 when nearly half a million fans flocked to witness an open-top bus parade when Germany returned with the World Cup.
However, despite the political tensions exacerbated by the Brexit crisis, the current perception is that Germany assumes this rivalry in a different way. The lack of hierarchy shown by England in decisive phases of major tournaments (they only add one win in direct elimination matches in the history of the European Championship, compared to 11 victories for the German national team) implies that the four-time world champions give greater importance to its closest rivals, such as the Netherlands, France and Italy. However, despite the fact that the English public has spent the whole week recovering images of Southgate’s failed penalty, Sir Geoff Hurst’s hat trick in 1966 and Frank Lampard’s “ghost goal” in 2010, the current combined English is somewhat puzzled by all this debate.
Southgate has attached paramount importance to reconnecting the team with its fans, after the harsh attitude shown by the latter, affected by the disappointments of the past. However, this will be an instance in which the coach will be more than happy that his squad appears to be able to disengage emotionally from the noise around them.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin said it bluntly when a journalist in his late 50s asked him how he perceived the dynamics of the match between England and Germany: “It is not as personal as it might be for someone your age,” the gunner replied between smiles. from Everton. And he is not mistaken: 11 members of the current squad of 26 players of the English national team had not been born when the 1996 Eurocup was played.
Many players in this group have recalled memories of Lampard’s spike in 2010. England trailed 2-1 in their round of 16 match in South Africa when the then-Chelsea midfielder fired a shot from the edge of the area, hitting the post. and clearly bounced over the line; only for the referees to signal that the match should continue.
With FIFA still reluctant to implement technology to assist at the goal line, England were frustrated with a firm sense of injustice as the match slipped out of hand, ultimately losing 4-1. However, for the players of the current England national team, Lampard’s experience is merely an isolated incident, rather than the most recent chapter in a protracted dispute with the Germans.
That said, England’s worst performance so far at Euro 2020 was against another team with whom the intensity of the rivalry was supposed to be limited to the stands. Scotland arrived at Wembley, and deserved to sign a goalless draw with an England apparently inhibited by their tactics or by the event itself. Since then, Southgate has publicly stated that “the particularity of the occasion” may have been a factor in his performance; And if that is true, there is an element of uncertainty as to how the second-youngest squad present at these decisive moments will be able to handle a similar atmosphere, marked by boos to anthems and derogatory chants from twice the number of fans present at Wembley.
However, this hostility displayed by the 45,000 gathered at Wembley will weigh heavily in England’s favor, and playing at their home stadium (for the fourth time in a row) will be an undeniable advantage. Some opinion circles in Germany believe that this advantage has been exacerbated by UEFA’s decision not to allow Joachim Low’s team to train at Wembley before the game. UEFA insists that its decision is due to the heavy rainfall expected in London for 36 hours before kickoff (some things never change); but it counts as another small victory, considering that the English team have two exact replicas of the Wembley surface at their disposal throughout the week, located in their training complex located in St. George’s Park.
The playing conditions seem favorable for England, including the feeling of chaos left by Germany’s qualification in what was undoubtedly the most difficult group: defeat against France, defeat against Portugal and draw with Hungary. In contrast, the structure established by Southgate in the English selected shows serenity, even if it comes at the expense of sacrificing part of the intention of proposal displayed by his staff on paper.
Therefore, everything should depend on the answer to the question of whether England is really capable of coping with the moment. Germany has a habit of reaching its best when the going gets serious. England, no. And he has shown it categorically.
Several years ago, the Football Association tried to solve this problem by organizing a series of first-rate friendlies. Since Southgate took over as national coach in October 2016, initially on an interim basis, England have played six friendlies against Spain, Germany (2), France, Brazil and the Netherlands. They barely added a win (1-0 vs. the Netherlands in March 2018).
The Three Lions made further progress in the inaugural edition of the UEFA Nations League, beating Spain as visitors and Croatia at Wembley, the ultimate goal being for the English team to get used to the toughest challenges, so that the gap would not feel so bad. accentuated when the football of the great international tournaments arrived.
Marcus Rashford, who scored in that Nations League victory in Spain, believes the strategy has paid dividends and has probably been a key factor in England’s qualification for the 2018 World Cup Russia semi-finals.
“I think it has helped tremendously,” the Manchester United striker told ESPN. “I remember that a few years ago we had good performance, although we did not obtain positive results against big teams.”
“It was something we had to focus on and try to change. In recent times, we’ve gotten them a bit more; we have had better results and played better against them. It is the fact that we have been exposed to those games, which is why we probably feel calmer with a view to this meeting and [estamos] ready for the game. Obviously, Germany is a first-rate team, with top-notch players; But we are not going to let that hold us back in any way. We will simply go out and try to win the game; try and be positive ”.
Both teams have important decisions to make. Low faces requests from some to replace Ilkay Gundogan in midfield with Leon Goretzka, following the contribution of the Bayern man who sealed the result against Hungary, while Leroy Sane’s place on the wings is threatened by Thomas Muller , as he continues his recovery from a knee injury.
Germany is likely to retain their 3-4-2-1 drawing, which presents Southgate with a dilemma: whether to replace their customary 4-2-3-1 formation to face Die Mannschaft with something similar (just as England did in many preparatory friendlies) in order to give them more control in midfield.
Phil Foden Runs To Return To The Court Along With Harry Kane And Raheem Sterling; however, forwards Jack Grealish and Bukayo Saka performed well in the most recent meeting against the Czech Republic. Same case of central Harry Maguire, who returned to the national team after his ankle injury.
Whichever he chooses, Southgate says he will convey the same message to his players that he reiterates before every game.
Southgate said in an article published on the Players’ Tribune portal: “The reason I repeat it is because I really believe it, with all my heart. I tell them that when you go out on the court wearing this shirt, you have the opportunity to create moments that people will remember forever. You are part of an experience that lasts in the collective conscience of our country ”.
And he knows it better than many.