Gareth Southgate’s side’s victory was the greatest possible illustration of what England were playing for, and how football elevates life
When moments like Tuesday happen, there is a natural desire for the story behind the scenes and the private words that made the day, but there was something very public that really summed it up. Dit was Gareth Southgate’s uplifting comment on the grand communion he’d just seen, the mass of life.
“To know you have given millions and millions of people happiness like that, after the year they’ve had. It’s special.”
This is something that shouldn’t be overlooked in the inevitable leap to look at what’s next after Germany. Southgate said the players were already talking about Saturday’s quarter-final by the time he got to the dressing room, but many were also looking at videos and photos of the day. It was hard not to. The pictures of people celebrating – and just living again – were as exhilarating as the moments on the pitch that produced them. There were arms raised. There were bodies everywhere. There was just… happiness.
It was the greatest possible illustration of what England were playing for, and how football elevates life. “We have that warmth of feeling around the country,” Southgate said.
The whole day had that feel early on. It was fitting that a win like this involved the biggest crowd since last March. Walking up Wembley Way was like walking to a proper event again. It felt like the country’s true reawakening. It was at once normality and so special.
The England players felt all that as they lined up for this game. Many commented on just how loud the crowd sounded again. It took them a few seconds to get used to it, just as it took them a few minutes to get into the game.
In all the euphoria, it shouldn’t be overlooked that there were a few moments when Southgate’s approach looked too cautious; when a disparate German were getting through that defence. But that is also why this win can be a coming-together for a team as much as the country. One can of course feed into the other. There were elements to this game that can help elevate the team to another level.
One was the confidence that can come from such a win after such a controlled performance. After that initial 10 minute spell, England had command of the game. They never really looked in danger other than isolated individual moments, that weren’t from superior team play. Germany had one Kai Havertz volley and that Thomas Muller breakaway, although the latter only served to make it all even sweeter.
His run through on goal was weighted with memories of so much misery against Germany. You could feel that in the reactions of the 40,000 England fans as the net apparently lay at his mercy. In plaas daarvan, a player who is usually Germany’s most reliable put it wide. It was as symbolic for the teams as it was significant for the game.
Moments later, Harry Kane wrapped it up, as he finally stepped it up. So much tension evaporated, but also for the player. Kane will just feel freer now. That was one of the elements that were so key to this game.
Southgate will probably persist with the same approach. That was almost indicated by the fact he described this day of glory as a “dangerous moment”. Even if so, it’s impossible not to think England will look more impressive in that approach, that there will be more assertiveness within it.
Kane will be playing with more confidence. Sterling can surely step it up. Declan Rice was immense against a hugely imposing international midfield. Luke Shaw was rampaging. And the whole path has been freed. England and Southgate will of course diplomatically talk about the challenge of the remaining teams, but we all know the reality. This has opened up.
Talk of having to get to a semi-final now longer cuts it. England know a final is well within their grasp. Southgate did make a concession there. He wasn’t completely diplomatic.
“I think the players know that it will be an immense challenge," hy het gesê. “They have been to the latter stages before and know how difficult that has been. Their feet are on the ground but they should feel confident from the way they played and manner of the performance. We came here with an intention and we have not achieved that yet. We haven’t put together a semi-final run after a quarter-final win since 1966. These boys keep writing history and I think we have a chance again. We have only been to one European Championship semi-final and we have a chance to do something special.”
They have already done something special with this whole day. There is just a greater chance for this whole tournament.