By Simon Evans
(Reuters) – While all the reminders of past encounters, penalty shoot-outs and ‘curses’ ahead of England’s last-16 meeting with Germany resonate with many, for those who will play at Wembley on Tuesday it is ancient – and largely irrelevant — history.
England have lost to Germany in their last three knockout meetings at major tournaments, in 1990, 1996 and 2010, with the first two coming after penalty shoot-outs in the semi-finals being particularly painful.
Gareth Southgate, the England manager, famously missed the crucial spot kick in the Euro 96 loss but 12 members of his squad were not even born at that time and the oldest member of his squad, Kyle Walker, was only six.
“I don’t really think about the past, whatever has happened has happened – the only thing we can do is be in the present,” said England winger Raheem Sterling, who has scored both of his team’s goals in the tournament so far.
“I don’t really get caught up in the rivalry at all,” he added.
“At the end of the day we’re going to play football and the objective is to win and for me it’s to score and enjoy it”.
Full-back Kieran Trippier was a little cheekier in his positive take on a question about the history of the fixture.
“As you look back down the years on games against Germany, the one that stands out to me was when we won 5-1 in Germany itself,” he said.
That game, a World Cup qualifier in 2001, with Michael Owen scoring a hat-trick in Munich, proved to be a false dawn and there is a fear among some England followers that the excitement around Southgate’s crop of talented young players may end in similar disappointment.
Certainly, England have yet to sparkle in this tournament. 1-0 wins over Croatia and the Czech Republic and a draw with Scotland were enough to secure progress but hardly set the pulses racing.
For all the hype around this last-16 encounter, this has not looked like a vintage German team either. They were unimpressive in their opening loss to France and were six minutes from defeat against Hungary and an exit from the tournament in their final group game.
In between though was one of the best displays anyone has produced in Euro 2020 — a 4-2 thrashing of defending champions Portugal, a performance that Southgate and his staff will be studying closely.
The England manager has yet to settle on a starting line-up and faces some key decisions about his creative players with Jack Grealish pushing for a start, Phil Foden hoping for a recall and Mason Mount possibly in contention when he comes out of isolation after coming into contact with Scottish player Billy Gilmour who tested positive for COVID-19.
Germany coach Joachim Loew, who stands down after this tournament, had looked to rejuvenate his squad after their disappointment in the World Cup in 2018 but there is still an experienced core to his team.
The midfield pairing of Ilkay Gundogan, who won the Premier League with Manchester City and Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos will look to dictate the rhythm and tempo with Bayern Munich’s Thomas Mueller operating in front of them.
England have never won a knockout match at the Euros in 90 minutes — four of their games have gone to penalties, with England progressing only once, against Spain at Wembley at Euro 96.
(Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Pritha Sarkar)