Euro 2020: England finally deliver another knockout blow at Wembley

It was the most England-Germany moment you could imagine.

Raheem Sterling had scored his third goal of the tournament to put England 1-0 up but with eight minutes to play, gave the ball away. Kai Havertz passed it to Thomas Muller, who equalised. The game went to penalties and England went out.

Except not this time.

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Muller, prolific in World Cup football but strangely unable to find the net in European Championships – not even in penalty shoot-outs – missed. Shortly afterwards he was substituted.

England's Harry Maguire celebrates after Harry Kane scored his side's 2nd goal. (Andy Rain, Pool via AP)

By then Harry Kane, so laboured in this tournament, had nodded a decisive second. England won a game of knockout football in the European Championship.

That has never happened before. They won a penalty shoot-out against Spain which prompted almost as much relief as this, but never victory in 90 minutes.

And not against Germany. The last time they lost a competitive game at Wembley was in 1966. You may have heard about it.

England’s players might have tried to block out all the post-66 history but it only added to the joy of the fans. Covid-19 restrictions meant Wembley was only half-full yet the noise it produced was incredible. It was not just elation, but relief too.

England's Raheem Sterling celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal at Wembley. (Andy Rain, Pool via AP)

“It means everything to beat them,” said Harry Maguire, ripping off the mask to tell everyone with even a passing acquaintance with English football what they already knew.

This may not be vintage Germany, but there is no such thing as pushover Germany. In terms of flowing football, it was not vintage England either but nobody cares. They are the only country yet to concede in this tournament. As the fans roared “Football’s Coming Home” they actually believed it.

Ukraine are next in Rome on Saturday and if this was not such a crazy tournament, you would say England will be back at Wembley for the semi-finals. The reality will be far less straight-forward but the dream is on.

From even before the start it sounded like the crowd were trying to make up for all those wasted games in front of empty seats but home advantage did not do much good early on, the visitors dominating the ball.

England's Raheem Sterling celebrates. (Justin Tallis, Pool Photo via AP)

The worry was that with manager Gareth Southgate reviving the all-Yorkshire World Cup back three to match Germany’s formation his team would be too conservative, and so it proved in the early stages. As they stood off Declan Rice looked jittery, giving the ball away then picking up a booking conceding a dangerous free-kick.

It took a 19-year-old to shake England out of it. Bukayo Saka chased back and ran forward, showing confidence in the way he turned, passed and at one stage juggled the ball like it was a park kickabout.

Maguire won his header comfortably at a free-kick Saka earned but, running back, was unable to redirect is as planned. He headed at Manuel Neuer from a corner, after Sterling cut inside and forced a save, and wide again after 27 minutes when Kalvin Phillips’s excellent pass released Kieran Trippier to cross.

Stones too headed wide in the first half. The message was clear: win set pieces and hit them at a Yorkshireman.

Phillips’s pass was a sign of his growing confidence and seeing his cross blocked at the byline and his run behind an overhit Kane pass were a sign he was becoming more than just a holding midfielder. Kane’s ongoing labours were more of a concern, finishing the first half by missing its best chance when his poor touch allowed Mats Hummels to avert the danger after Sterling’s driving run into the area.

Jordan Pickford’s only first-half save of note came after 32 minutes, rushing out to deny Timo Werner.

The second half took an age to get going. The problem with being England’s manager is everyone in the country thinks they can do a better job. Even the scoreboard had its two penn’orth, flashing an image of Jack Grealish sat on the bench by way of a hint. Southgate soon responded, replacing Saka.

Grealish was involved in both goals, though Luke Shaw takes even more credit. Sterling went on a run for the first, found Kane, who played it to Grealish, then Shaw for an excellent cross Sterling tapped in after 76 minutes.

When Kane went down injured in the second half more than a few would have secretly hoped it was nothing too trivial but he secured victory when Shaw’s hunger to win the ball in midfield allowed Grealish to cross and the captain arch his back to nod in.

England had done it.

Days like this just do not happen. Did not.

England: Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire; Trippier, Phillips, Rice (Henderson 87), Shaw; Saka (Grealish 68), Kane, Sterling. Unused substitutes: Rashford, Ramsdale, Mings, Coady, Sancho, Mount, Foden, Johnstone, James, Bellingham.

Germany: Neuer; Ginter (Can 87), Hummels, Rudiger; Kimmich, Kroos, Goretzka, Gosens (Sane 87); Havertz, Muller (Musiala 90), Werner (Gnabry 68). Unused substitutes: Halstenberg, Volland, Leno, Sule, Neuhaus, Gundogan, Trapp, Koch.

Referee: D Makkelie (Netherlands).