Those complaints about the FA’s desire to tie Gareth Southgate down to a longer contract will be somewhat quieter this morning.
Whilst not the thrill-a-minute ride demanded by his more vocal critics the England manager presided over a tactical masterclass which ended the international career of his more highly-regarded counterpart, Germany coach Joachim Low.
For a man seen as fortunate to be given the England job in the first place – and he was certainly in the right place at the right time following Sam Allardyce’s sacking five years ago – Southgate has developed the happy knack of clocking up some historic achievements.
England boss Gareth Southgate celebrates after guiding his side to a 2-0 win over Germany
The victory brings the curtain down on Joachim Low’s 15 years as Germany manager
England’s first penalty shoot-out victory for 22 years culminating in a first World Cup semi-final for 28 has now been followed by twin milestones that could prove even more significant.
Embarrassingly for a major football nation this was England’s first ever victory in the knockout stages of the European Championship achieved in normal time, a feat all the sweeter given it came against Germany, beaten for the first time by their old rivals in a knockout game since 1966.
Southgate will have to cope with countless questions about whether this group of players is finally the England team who can match the Boys of 66 by winning a major trophy as the hype machine intensifies over the coming days, but he is well equipped to cope with the pressure.
Raheem Sterling opened the scoring for England on an historic Wembley evening at Euro 2020
Harry Kane then headed his first goal of the tournament to give England a memorable win
The 50-year-old has had to cope with innumerable external crisis involving the Covic-19 pandemic, racist abuse and player indiscipline during his five years in charge so attempting to fulfil the now soaring expectations of the nation will not trouble him.
Southgate is respected as much for his statesman-like qualities off the pitch as his ability in the dugout, which goes a long way towards explaining the desire of FA chief executive Mark Bullingham to extend his contract given that all controversies in the sport seemingly lead back to the governing body, but football management remains his day-job and he needed a victory like this to translate the widespread national admiration for him into genuine affection.
For all the joy engendered by England’s unexpected run to the last four in Russia three years ago this is undoubtedly the biggest win of Southgate’s career, although given the possibilities now on offer from a tantalising draw he will be expecting more to follow.
England have learnt much under Southgate since tumbling out of the World Cup semi-finals
Southgate has been planning for games such as this since the World Cup semi-final defeat by Croatia, when a match England had been controlling got away from them and he was unable to respond, and in many respects this was the polar opposite.
Following a rocky opening England grew stronger as time wore on, both in terms of freshness and finesse on the ball, an improvement due in no small part to game-management drills instilled on the training ground.
After two extra-time finishes in Russia Southgate has been meticulously planning for all the knockout games in this tournament to go the distance so deliberately stacked his bench with attacking players, a decision which paid off handsomely in the stunning impact made by Jack Grealish.
Jack Grealish was a key introduction as a second half substitute to inspire England to victory
The Aston Villa midfield player’s cocksure swagger is often enough to lift his team-mates and the crowd on its own, but on Tuesday it was backed up by real substance as he played a crucial role in both goals.
Grealish’s incisive, angled pass to Luke Shaw created the opening for Raheem Sterling to score just eight minutes after his introduction, while eight minutes later he crossed from the left for Harry Kane to seal the victory with a diving header.
That assist was the first time a substitute has contributed so directly to a goal in 11 tournament matches under Southgate, another significant first for the manager.
With five subs at his disposal in this competition Southgate is aiming to emulate the cultural shift in English rugby achieved by Eddie Jones, who has changed the notion of replacements into finishers, with Grealish perfect for the job in hand.
Southgate’s use of Grealish as an impact sub demonstrated his tactical masterclass
Southgate’s tactics paid off throughout other than during the first 15 minutes, when Toni Kroos and Leon Goretzka looked capable of carving through midfield at will.
After being initially overawed Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips soon began competing on even terms however, and by matching Germany’s shape their wing-backs Joshua Kimmich and Robin Gosens were unable to make the same inroads they had achieved in the group stage. Cautious rather than cavalier, England got the job done.
England will come under pressure to do more with the ball and to move it more quickly during the remainder of the tournament, as their next opponents are likely to adopt a more defensive approach themselves, but with Phil Foden and Mason Mount to return they have the players to adapt. And certainly the manager.