London (AFP) – England can avenge decades of hurt at the hands of Germany when they face their old rivals in a blockbuster Euro 2020 last-16 clash on Tuesday as France came to terms with their shock exit.
Gareth Southgate’s side host Germany at Wembley at 1600 GMT in England’s biggest match on home turf for 25 years.
Around 40,000 fans will be in the stadium after coronavirus restrictions were eased and the atmosphere was electric in the hours before kick-off, with thousands of fans streaming towards the ground clad in replica shirts.
England beat the Germans to win the 1966 World Cup final but their major tournament history has been littered with painful exits against them since then.
The 1990 World Cup semi-final defeat on penalties is still etched in the nation’s psyche and Southgate was the Euro 96 fall guy as he missed a crucial spot kick in the semi-final shoot-out defeat.
But the England boss believes it is a chance for his players to add a memorable new chapter to their careers.
“This team, I’ve said for a long time, have had so many unique achievements and my focus is on this team and helping them to succeed,” Southgate said.
“This is about our players. This is their moment and it’s their opportunity.”
– ‘Make history’ –
Former England captain Alan Shearer said England’s young team had a chance to “make their own history”.
“We go on about this fixture because it means so much to two great footballing countries,” he told the BBC. “There’s a little more to come from this England team hopefully, they haven’t really got going yet.”
England have never won the European Championship and a victory against Germany would be only their second knockout stage win in the history of the competition.
In sharp contrast, Germany have been crowned kings of Europe three times, with the most recent success coming in 1996.
But Germany travelled to London in the unusual position of fearing defeat against England, who have been solid if spectacular so far and are yet to concede a goal.
Joachim Loew’s team stumbled into the last 16 after rescuing a 2-2 draw against Hungary in their final group game.
Germany are not the intimidating force of old and, with Loew stepping down at the end of the tournament, a defeat would signal the end of an era.
Despite winning the World Cup in 2014, Loew has been criticised for his role in a humiliating group-stage exit from the 2018 World Cup and a series of poor results before the Euros.
England will have the vast majority of the crowd on their side at Wembley and Loew expects a spine-tingling encounter.
“This is a match which electrifies everybody. For both teams, it’s in or out, it’s now or never, the loser goes home,” he said.
Under grey north London skies, throngs of supporters heading to the match congregated to belt out “Football’s Coming Home” and kick footballs around.
Germany fan Saskia Beyer, 34, who lives in Britain, said she felt outnumbered by the England fans.
“It’s definitely been a special rivalry, historically, even though the Germans have mostly won for the past 50 years,” she said. “I know the English people are keen to win.”
Nervous England fan Sam Stevenson, 27, predicted a tight 1-0 win for the home side.
“We have unfortunate memories when we play the Germans,” he said. “We need to put those negative thoughts to rest.”
The winner of the match will face a quarter-final in Rome against the winner of Tuesday’s 1900 GMT kickoff in Glasgow between Sweden and Ukraine — the last tie in the round of 16.
– France drama –
Whatever happens on Tuesday it will struggle to live up to the drama of Monday, when world champions France suffered a stunning defeat against Switzerland, losing 5-4 on penalties after a thrilling 3-3 draw in Bucharest as Kylian Mbappe missed the vital kick.
“I’m sorry for the penalty. I wanted to help the team but I failed,” Mbappe said on social media.
French football federation president Noel Le Graet said Tuesday he “doesn’t think” that France’s early exit from Euro 2020 will affect manager Didier Deschamps’ future, but that he would talk with the coach.
In the quarter-finals, Switzerland will face Spain, who hit back for an epic 5-3 extra-time win against Croatia after blowing a lead in Copenhagen.
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