For the neutral, it was definitely not a thriller. Sometimes both sides seemed more afraid of losing than excited about winning.
The chances were rare; indeed, Germany had the best opportunities until England stole the lead in the 75th minute thanks to Sterling’s close range end.
Playing in front of a partisan crowd of 40,000 who looked like Wembley Stadium was at full capacity, England capitalized on their chances when it mattered.
The introduction of Jack Grealish by England head coach Gareth Southgate in the second half also helped change the course of the game.
As “It’s Coming Home” – the refrain of “Three Lions”, the anthem adopted by England – reverberated around Wembley, the English players made a deserved lap of honor and soaked themselves in the adulation of ‘an ecstatic crowd.
Nerves and expectations
Thousands of waiting fans had gathered on Wembley Way – the famous road to England’s national stadium – hours before kick-off, their nerves showing in a cacophony of songs and chants that didn’t were never quite in sync.
Small pockets of German fans pushing their way through the sea of white shirts were greeted with vociferous hoots; they were overwhelmingly outnumbered in the crowd of 40,000.
Although fans joined in the songs played over the Wembley sound system, you would have been forgiven for thinking the grandstands were filled to 90,000 seats – it had been a while since the England Stadium had bounced back and vibrated in an atmosphere quite like that, due to the ongoing Covid restrictions in the country.
To their credit, the German fans gathered in the far corner of the pitch continued their attempts to make their voices heard, but the savage and partisan England crowd drowned them.
The noise – now in the form of boos and taunts – continued throughout the German national anthem, which was barely audible to home fans.
England had won only one knockout match in European Championship history, the quarterfinal victory over Spain at Euro 96.
Perhaps the current squad of young England players seemed to be feeling the brunt of the wait, their sloppy pass getting lost as Germany dominated the opening 10 minutes.
Then England’s defense fell apart, as Leon Goretzka found himself a one-on-one with England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, before being awkwardly coached by Declan Rice.
A nervous silence fell over Wembley, the crowd calming down for the first time, as the English fans nervously awaited the referee’s decision; Heaving a sigh of relief as Germany received only one free kick, despite Rice being given a yellow card.
This moment seemed to galvanize England, who started attacking with some intention for the first time in the entire game. Sterling first made a magnificent save from Manuel Neuer, before Harry Maguire’s header in the next corner was comfortably recovered by the German keeper.
As things got more hectic and the decibels increased, Southgate emerged as the calmest man in Wembley Stadium, hands in pockets as he strolled through his technical area, occasionally reaching out to offer tactical advice to its players.
England certainly had the upper hand now, but without disturbing Germany too much. Maguire rose to the far post after a good linking play between Kalvin Phillips and Kieran Trippier, but his effort soared above the bar when perhaps he should have done better.
Germany gradually started to come back into the game and arguably had the best chance of the game when Timo Wener was played on goal. The angle might have been good, but his effort was still well saved by Pickford.
The away team were now starting to gain the upper hand and home fans’ frustration spilled over into a chorus of taunts when Trippier had the opportunity to put the ball into the box, but opted for a short pass instead.
England captain and prolific striker Kane came under criticism at Euro 2020, failing to make the scoresheet – or even get into the game – in all three of the group’s group matches. ‘England, and he’s only touched the ball twice in the opening 30 minutes here.
Germany continued to improve at the start of the second half and almost caught England by cold in the first five minutes. It took a magnificent Pickford save to deny the long-range strike from Kai Havertz, who seemed for a split second to squeeze under the crossbar.
However, a mad dash from Sterling, twisting back and forth between the German defense, got the crowd back on its feet. The Manchester City forward appeared to have fashioned an opening, but the wall of black shirts quickly closed to block any opportunity.
Both managers made their first change with just over 20 minutes to go, with Grealish coming to a huge roar as he replaced Bukayo Saka and Joachim Löw choosing to take Werner out for Serge Gnabry.
Then all of a sudden the English fans got the breakthrough they were hoping for.
Shaw found just a small pocket of space on the left side of Germany’s box and was chosen by Grealish, before shooting a delicious low cross straight through the goal Sterling was on hand to exploit under Neuer.
Pandemonium cue inside Wembley, as the crowd finally began to believe their tournament hoodoo against Germany was drawing to a close.
That feeling grew when Thomas Mueller was net on goal after Sterling gave the ball cheap, but the Bayern Munich striker dragged his shot aside.
At the other end of the pitch, Sterling sank to his in relief and hammered Wembley turf.
When Kane converted the runner-up, nodding his head at Grealish’s cross less than five minutes after Mueller’s failure, this home crowd knew their team had qualified for the quarter-finals.
The noise inside Wembley was deafening – these supporters had not had the opportunity to celebrate in a quarter of a century. They hope to take two more steps than in 1996 but, for now, they were just going to enjoy their second knockout victory at a European Championship.
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