England v Germany: is the tide turning?

If the outcome of England’s World Cup match against Germany in Bloemfontein is to be determined by whichever set of players is the strongest mentally, it is to be hoped that the English players do not share the thought processes of the average English supporter.

England’s last competitive encounter with the Germans resulted in a 5-1 victory in the Olympic Stadium in Munich in September 2001 in qualification for the 2002 World Cup finals.

Yet how much have we dwelt on that result compared with the semi-finals at Italia ‘90 and Euro ‘96, both of which England lost on penalties, or even the quarter-final in the Mexico World Cup in 1970, when England led 2-0 but wound up beaten 3-2 by Gerd Muller’s extra-time winner?

Between the 1966 World Cup final and the 2000 European Championship finals in Holland and Belgium, England did not win a single competitive match against Germany and even the victory in Charleroi in 2000 was a hollow affair, given that neither side qualified for the knock-out stages.

This dismal record persuaded the author David Downing, whose portfolio includes some acclaimed works of 20th century history and some political thrillers, to write a history of the nations’ rivalry that revealed much not only about the development of football in each country but about how the culture of both countries is reflected in the performances of their football teams.

The conclusions he reached were depressing in that they were difficult to argue with, explaining as they did the inevitably of the barren years for England that followed 1966, after which Germany’s progressive re-examination of their technique contrasted with England’s stubborn adherence to outdated attitudes and beliefs.

The question today is whether England can show that the 5-1 scoreline of 2001 was a turning point or merely a freak.

To buy The Best of Enemies: England v Germany click on the link.

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