‘England beating Germany brought ecstasy to millions who hungered for it’

So Wembley has finally been exorcised and the curse laid to rest.

England sent the Germans home from a major football tournament for the first time since Bobby Moore lifted the World Cup in 1966.

And for the vast majority of the 40,000 fans inside the home of English football, and in countless houses, pubs and beer gardens across the country, it brought ecstasy to millions who had hungered for this moment.

The timing could not have been better. England’s fans and players were sick of hearing about 55 years of hurt.

They were sick of their apparent inferiority to a German nation who could beat them effortlessly, almost cruelly, at a game they invented.

It was perfect timing for a nation which has suffered a miserable 16 months in the grip of Covid, and this Government’s lamentable response to it, a nation that was aching for hope, light, joy and a good reason to forget all the restrictions, ditch all their inhibitions and party.

A seemingly cagey performance turned into a tactical masterclass from Gareth Southgate

Well watch that party start now the Germans have been eliminated, along with favourites France.

England know they have two winnable games before a possible final at Wembley – a final that would be their first big one since 1966.

What a bizarre turnaround it was to see fans with German flags painted on their faces crying in the stands and players in German shirts slumped to their knees on the Wembley turf.

Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling both scored to see off Germany
Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling both scored to see off Germany

At the end of an England performance that may have at first appeared cagey but was a tactical masterclass from Gareth Southgate, fans in the Wembley stands went delirious.

Social distancing seemed a distant memory as they leapt on each other and tumbled down the gangways locked in embraces.

On the pitch, the players passionately hugged each other and celebrated like they’d actually won something tangible. And in a way they had. They weren’t lifting a trophy but were instead casting a huge historical weight off their backs.

Harry Kane of England celebrates with Harry Maguire and team mates after scoring their side's second goal during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Round of 16 match between England and Germany at Wembley Stadium
England beat Germany for the first time in a major competitive match for the first time since 1966

It may only have signalled progress to the last eight of the Euros but this generation of players, most of whom weren’t born the last time England lost to Germany on penalties in 1996, had finally slain the bogeyman.

They became the history-makers, the ones who allowed the nation to move on psychologically.

It was brave of Southgate to leave out supporters’ favourite Jack Grealish and set up defensively as fans and pundits begged him to go on the front foot against the old enemy.

England heroes Jack Grealish, Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips
England heroes Jack Grealish, Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips

Had England lost, he would have been slaughtered. But his cautious approach was proved right and you couldn’t help but feel delighted for him at the end as he shook his fists at the sky and enjoyed his own personal moment of schadenfreude.

This was the man who spent the past 25 years being labelled the clown and the villain of ’96 after he missed the penalty that put the Germans through to the Euros final.

At last he was slaying his own personal demon. And how lovely to see Raheem Sterling, often the whipping boy among fans (despite scoring 15 in the past 20 internationals) open the scoring.

And captain Harry Kane who had suffered three goalless games thus far and struggled to get into last night’s match, hit the clincher.

England fans celebrate as they leave Wembley following the match
England fans celebrate as they leave Wembley following the match

It was superb to see fans back in a stadium in numbers, making us lick our lips about what we can expect come August when football grounds reopen and return to being the passionate cauldrons they once were.

And how great to see the German players take the knee against racism in solidarity with the English, in the face of moronic boos. It said we have more in common than that which separates us by colour or nationality.

Maybe now the footballing ghost has been exorcised, the nation as a whole can move on from its fixation with the Second World War.

England are still only in the quarter-finals but the German scalp will give them a huge morale boost. Win in Rome on Saturday and they are two wins at Wembley away from glory.

Whisper it above the growing din but the lift the nation felt last night could soon raise us even higher.

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