Tuesday’s last-16 tie evokes memories of classic battles between the rivals — including the agony of shootout defeats at Italia 90 and Euro 96. But Gareth Southgate, who missed a crucial spot-kick against the Germans 25 years ago, has worked hard on improving his players’ mentality in those pressure moments.
And victory against Colombia on penalties in the last World Cup was evidence of England finally shaking off that hoodoo. The Three Lions also lost shootouts to Portugal in Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup.
Marcus Rashford reflects the confidence in a new generation of players, insisting he would not hesitate to step up against Germany.
“It’s a chance to score a penalty and a chance for the team to go through to the next round of the competition,” he said. “At England, it has always been good in terms of penalties. We always work in the right way, which is the right way for each individual, as everybody deals with those pressure situations differently. When we first started doing the penalty work, Gareth spoke about it and what he would have changed (in 1996). And it was good to listen to, and it helped the players a lot.
“But we are going back before Russia a few years ago. That is when we started doing proper work on penalties.”
Rashford also revealed this young England squad is no longer gripped by fear of playing Germany, simply because they are too young to remember the heartaches of the past. Those shootout defeats in 90 and 96 live in the minds of many fans, but Rashford said: “Some of the players weren’t even born yet! We are being put in a position where we are blessed to be part of that history. Our main focus is to win the game, but if we do it gets put in history. That’s how great teams are remembered for many years.
“There is no point fearing the past. You can’t go back and change it. What we can change is the result of the next game and put ourselves in the best possible position to win the game. We have to bring the best version of us and take that to the game. We want to win the ‘England Way’ — show some good football, work hard for each other and score and create goals.
“Germany are a top, top team and have showed that for years, but we can give them a good game and definitely over the last two years we’ve improved massively against the bigger teams. We’ve been getting better results.
“Whereas, before that, we were sometimes playing alright, but most of the game they were dominating, it was difficult for us to get goalscoring opportunities and the game would usually be one or two-nil to them, but they’d be in control of the game.
“That was one of the things Gareth wanted to change. It was around Nations League time, we wanted to start pushing ourselves and trying to beat these big nations. Gradually we started to do it a few more times, sometimes drawing, but games where it’s very fine margins, and losing a lot less. We’ve definitely progressed in those terms.”
Southgate is considering changing England’s system against Germany by potentially reverting to a back three, which was so successful at the last World Cup. That could mean Kyle Walker moving to centre-back, with Kieran Trippier on the right.
The England manager will make a late decision on whether to recall Mason Mount after the Chelsea midfielder’s isolation as a Covid precaution, which could put Jack Grealish’s place under threat, despite his outstanding performance against Czech Republic on Tuesday.
Rashford is likely to be used from the bench again after admitting his shoulder injury has affected his form and could require an operation. But he still has hopes of making a telling impact.
“In tournament football it is the reason why you need a good squad,” he said. “It is impossible for 11 players to play 90 minutes for seven games in such a short space of time. Everybody has to be ready. I am not performing at my best. Whatever that is down to, it doesn’t really matter because it has been going on since early on in the season.
“I got through the season with United. I think I had 36 goal involvements so I can’t look back and say, ‘I should have taken time off to do this and do that.’ That’s just not the way I look at things. To get to this stage, it was a massive aim back at the beginning of the season. I’m happy — I’m prepared mentally and physically for the games.”