The first soccer match I ever watched was the 1966 World Cup Final between England and West Germany. It was played at Wembley Stadium in London and broadcast by ABC’s Wide World of Sports (thank you Jim McKay).
England won that match 4-2 after extra time. Since then, Germany has pretty consistently gotten the better of England in soccer.
Of particular note are Germany’s two wins in major semifinal matches — the 1990 World Cup and the 1996 Euros. Both were decided by penalty kicks. The latter was also played at Wembley Stadium.
Now, England and Germany will play again at Wembley, this time in a Round of 16 match at Euro 2020. England finished atop its group. Germany was second in its much tougher group.
The English might have hoped for a less formidable opponent than Germany this early in the knockout stages. But at least they will play the Germans at home.
England isn’t as formidable now as in 1996. That English team was arguably the best since 1966 (or maybe 1970). It featured the likes of David Seaman, Tony Adams, Gary Neville, Paul Ince, Teddy Sheringham, and superstars Paul Gascoigne and Alan Shearer. Also in the starting lineup were current England manager Gareth Southgate (he missed a penalty kick in the shootout) and Steve McManaman, then a dashing racehorse of a winger, now an ESPN pundit.
Germany’s team wasn’t star-studded. Top stars from the 1990 World Cup team like Jurgen Klinsmann, Rudi Voller, Andreas Brehme, and Jurgen Kohler were gone — replaced by capable players but not superstars. Of the key 1990 players, only Andreas Moller remained. But the Germans had the grit that characterized most of their teams in those days.
England grabbed a lead in the third minute on a Shearer goal. However, Stefan Kuntz equalized soon thereafter.
There were no more goals during the 90 minutes of regulation time or in the 30 minutes of extra time. However, in extra time Gascoigne came within inches of reaching a cross that, sliding in, he would have tapped into the net.
England then lost on penalty kicks, as it had in 1990 and would do too often in future competitions.
How do the two teams stack up this year? England won its group with seven points (two wins and a draw). Germany managed just one win (4-1 over Portugal) and one draw (2-2 against Hungary). It lost 2-0 to France.
Yet, I believe Germany played well enough in two of its three matches (versus Portugal and France) to beat England. I believe that England played well enough in two of its three matches only to get a draw against Germany. England was poor against Scotland and would likely lose to Germany with a performance like that one. Germany would likely lose to England with a performance like its one against Hungary.
Thus, absent the home field advantage, I would lean towards Germany. But playing at Wembley might be the equalizer.
England’s strength so far has been its defense. The team has yet to concede a goal. The clean sheet against Scotland doesn’t mean much, but Croatia is a pretty good attacking side.
The weakness for England has been in attack. Harry Kane, who led the EPL in both goals and assists this season and was the leading scorer at the last World Cup, hasn’t scored yet at Euro 2020. He may need to if England is to prevail against Germany. The good news is that, after two poor performances, Kane looked sharper against the Czech Republic.
Germany’s back line hasn’t impressed, though it’s important to keep in mind that France and Portugal are very strong attacking teams. The Germans have resorted to using three center backs, perhaps on the theory that there’s strength in numbers. But none of three has been compelling.
The strength of the team has been its wing-backs, Joshua Kimmich and Robin Gosens. That’s not usually the formula for an outstanding team. Such teams tend to be strongest up the middle. Thus, moving Kimmich out of central midfield, where he’s world class (as he is on the wing) seemed to me like a suboptimal use of his talents. Yet, Germany has made it work for the most part.
Germany’s front line — Serge Gnabry, Kai Havertz, and Thomas Muller (or Leroy Sané) — isn’t all that compelling individually. However, the way these players constantly interchange could cause England problems. Southgate will have to drill his defenders hard if they are to cope.
One position where Germany seemingly has a clear advantage is in goal. Germany’s Manuel Neuer of Bayern Munich is one of the best in the world. He was a star of the German team that won the 2014 World Cup.
England’s Jordan Pickford of Everton has been, at best, an average EPL goalkeeper in the past few years. But Pickford has never let England down, and he excelled at the last World Cup. He’s an outstanding shot stopper and during the second half of the EPL season, those crazy plays he’s prone to make largely vanished from his game.
As an England fan, I’ll be hoping for the best, expecting the worst, and praying that Harry Kane finds his form.