“It means everything to beat them,” beamed Sheffield-born Harry Maguire after playing an important role in his country’s first knockout victory over Germany in a major tournament since 1966.
Wembley was only half-full – still the biggest crowd in an English sports stadium since last year’s spring lockdown – but the joyous atmosphere it generated was deafening and only added to Maguire’s satisfaction.
“That felt like a proper football match,” said the centre-back, playing only his second game of the tournament after missing the start through injury.
“We haven’t had that in a long time. That’s the atmosphere we’ve been missing and that football deserves. It was magnificent to get the fans back in the stadium, and to put a smile back on their faces after a tough couple of years for everybody in the country.
“We knew we had to win and we did it with a great performance, a controlled performance and a magnificent victory.”
It was secured by goals from Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane. Luke Shaw and substitute Jack Grealish played a hand in both goals but there were contributions all over the field and Maguire’s was immense, earning him the man-of-the-match award.
Setting up Saturday’s Rome quarter-final – the only match England will play away from Wembley in this tournament – gives the Three Lions a fantastic chance of winning the competition having only previously won one knockout tie in their history (on penalties). But the identity of their opponents, so often the scourge of English football, made it sweeter.
“I’m not going to play it down,” said Maguire, the former Sheffield United and Hull City defender. “It means everything to beat (Germany). We know they are a great team with excellent players and a great style of play.
“We changed our formation to counteract theirs and wanted to be aggressive all over the pitch; brave, on and off the ball.”
England are in the supposedly weaker side of the draw but with France and the Netherlands having already been surprisingly knocked out of the competition, Maguire and his manager Gareth Southgate know any complacency now would be dangerous.
“Before the game you could hear people saying about the run and the side of the draw,” he said. “The side of the draw means absolutely nothing. If you don’t play to a level, you’ll get punished.
“We haven’t done anything yet. It’s a magnificent night for everyone who follows this country at football, we’ve put a smile on a lot of people’s faces. That’s why we play football. But come Saturday, we know its business again. We need to improve come Saturday.”
Southgate revealed: “When we got in the dressing room, we were talking about Saturday already. Today has been an immense performance, but at a cost, emotionally and physically. We’ve got to make sure we recover well and be mentally in the right space.
“It’s a dangerous moment for us – we’ll have that warmth of success, and the feeling around the country that we’ve only got to turn up to win the thing, but we know it’s going to be an immense challenge from hereon.”
Southgate picked an unpopular 3-4-3 formation without Grealish, Phil Foden and Mason Mount, only the first of whom came off the bench. But the result was further vindication of the manager who took England to the 2018 World Cup semi-final.
“You can’t please everybody in terms of picking a starting XI,” said Maguire. “Everyone has an opinion and thinks differently.”
Southgate added: “What pleased me the most was that, we will always have passion and heart, but we played with brains as well. We pressed at the right moments, we wanted to be man-for-man aggressive in our pressure, and the wing-backs really did that well and set the tone.
“The forwards picked the right moments to go and to stay, and then we found a nice balance of being brave with the ball to keep possession in our own half but then also the right moments to really go quickly and counter.”
Match report: Page 22