How do German fans feel about facing England?
Tuesday, June 29, 2021
Germany have become England's footballing nemesis, but how does Tuesday's game look from a German perspective?
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As he sent me off to explore the footballing relationship between England and Germany ahead of Tuesday's round of 16 tie at Wembley, my editor at EURO2020.com reminded me about this famous quote from England striker-turned-broadcaster Gary Lineker: "Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans win."
An Anglo-German 'classic' at Wembley is a massive occasion, but Lineker's line indicates how differently the two nations regard such meetings. Fans in Germany know all about Lineker's fateful proverb – and the fact it's in such wide circulation means there is still some currency to it – but truthfully, England do not occupy such a big place in German football folklore as Die Mannschaft do in the minds of English fans.
Don't get me wrong: a match with England is always a huge encounter and the excitement around Tuesday's fixture is way above average. However, I believe that a dramatic loss always burns deeper into a national psyche than a brilliant victory, and looking back, I don't think Germany have lost a genuinely massive game against England since the 1966 FIFA World Cup final. And having won three World Cups and three EUROs since then, I reckon we're over it.
English fans could trace that animus against Germany back to shoot-out defeats in the semi-finals of the 1990 World Cup and EURO '96, with Germany's 4-1 win against England in the 2010 World Cup round of 16 an additional scar on the national footballing consciousness. Die Mannschaft are seen as England's 'bogey team', whereas for Germany, that was always Italy – at least until we beat the Azzurri on penalties in the quarter-finals of UEFA EURO 2016.
However, if England's rivalry with Germany is somewhat one-sided, the prospect of playing at Wembley is still a very big deal, with the turf every bit as hallowed for German footballers as it is for English. Former Germany goalkeeper Andreas Köpke said recently: "So many huge football matches have taken place there and so many extraordinary things have happened. If you are a footballer, it's inevitable you see Wembley as a special place."
Joshua Kimmich, who was just one year old when Köpke saved Gareth Southgate's penalty in the EURO '96 semi-final, certainly feels that same sense of anticipation about visiting the 'Home of Football'. "Awesome!" he said after learning his side's last-16 fate. "It doesn't get any better than that. We are fired up. There is much room for improvement for us and we will show that against England."
Meanwhile, a word to the wise in relation to that Lineker quote. The stuff about "chasing a ball for 90 minutes" might be where England have been getting it wrong. Rather than "chasing", it's opponents who sit deep and soak up pressure that seem to cause this German team headaches. No hang-ups, no animosity: may the best team win.