As England celebrated their decisive second goal by the corner, a lone flag waved defiantly far away in the German section. Soon it was joined by two more. But with only four minutes to go, they knew what everybody else knew.
It was done. A curse had been lifted, a spell broken. England 2 Germany 0.
From that point on, there was time left only for the magnitude of this achievement to sink in.
England beat Germany 2-0 to reach the Euro 2020 quarter-finals in glorious fashion
The Three Lions did a lap of honour after the match in a significant moment of the country
Across Europe they may scoff. They may wonder why Gareth Southgate’s players did a little lap of honour around Wembley at full-time. This was a last sixteen game. There are seven other teams left in this tournament. Isn’t the time for such joyfulness supposed to be at the end of the actual final with medals in hands?
Fair enough. But then why would we expect anybody else to understand? How would they know what this has felt like all these years? How could they possibly get it?
For the best part of half a century, German football has had a stranglehold on the English. They may say they have not felt the great depth of the rivalry and perhaps not. They have been too busy winning tournaments and things.
But in England, many of those years have passed slowly. One disappointment has only fuelled the next, deepening the insecurity. So when the damn eventually burst, it was going to feel special and significant and life-affirming and this is exactly how it did feel.
England’s goals on Tuesday night came from Harry Kane (left) and Raheem Sterling (right)
Wembley at full-time was some sight and Southgate had called it perfectly beforehand. He had told his players that history was theirs to make, that they could do something that many great men who had passed before them had not managed to do.
He had also said none of this was about him which was only partly right.
At full-time as Southgate raised both fists to the sky, he celebrated a triumph of which he was the architect. This was his team, these were his tactics bravely deployed.
And it was his captain, Harry Kane, scoring the second goal, one that vindicated his manager’s faith in him and may yet propel him in to better form from hereon in.
Gareth Southgate celebrated his personal moment of revenge at full-time with relief and joy
And this, more broadly, is the point. From here anything feels possible. Not just for Kane but for England. It is impossible to overstate what this victory means. If England can beat Germany so purposefully then they can beat anybody in their half of the draw. Of that there is no doubt now.
Victory was England’s fairly, too. No need for extra time or penalties. That would have been fine but this was better. This was a triumph earned by a team who simply played the best football. It was close and was always likely to be. But England deserved it, for sure, and were only really uncomfortable for eight minutes – the first eight.
It was during this short spell that Germany briefly seemed intent on proving that they were not yesterday’s men at all, that they could still play a bit.
England, at the start, looked a little cowed. Wembley had belted out the national anthem as though that part was supposed to be competitive too. But Southgate’s players did not have any of that conviction, not at the start.
The Three Lions needed to show patience as Germany frustrated them in certain moments
Germany came at England with poise and slickness and purpose and briefly the national stadium wondered if it was about to watch the same old show all over again.
Had Germany scored early who knows how this may have played out? Who knows what damage that would have done to English minds?
But they didn’t manage to worry Jordan Pickford during that time and once Raheem Sterling broke forward and eased inside Kai Havertz to bring a save from Manuel Neuer from 25 yards, the whole feel of the contest changed.
That moment served as an awakening. Almost instantly, England began to press Germany higher up the field, exposing their opponents’ lack of speed in almost every area. No longer could Joachim Low’s team play through the England midfield. Doors were locked, barricades built.
The first ten minutes saw Germany come out firing and threatened from a free-kick
Southgate’s men then pushed up the pitch from then on in with Luke Shaw (right) impressing
Early on England’s midfield holders – Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips – were not at it. Toni Kroos – as we had feared – was too much for them. Again that didn’t last.
For a while, it was tight, desperately so. The first half would have been a decent watch for the neutrals, the second half less so. A goal, in all honesty, did not look particularly likely in regulation time.
But this England did not panic. They did not look as though they feared the extra distance and at the end it was possible to look back at performances by players now growing perfectly in to this tournament.
Luke Shaw was involved in both goals. Jose Mourinho may or may not have noticed that. Harry Maguire was – and is – England’s best defender. Some said he should not have been in Southgate’s squad. And Raheem Sterling scored his third goal of the tournament. So that’s why the England manager always picks him.
Sterling justified his selection again by scoring from close range for his third of Euro 2020
In isolation this was a super night and whatever happens now should always be remembered as such. The great challenge between this and Saturday’s quarter-final in Rome is to ensure that adrenaline does not give way to tiredness, that England’s players do not feel the most significant peak of the Euros has now been climbed. It will be hot in Italy and the challenge of a game on the road will be different for sure.
But that is for then while this is all about now. What a victory, what a night.
After the first goal, created beautifully down England’s left side, Southgate’s assistant Steve Holland could be seen telling their players to calm down.
Calm down? Why on earth would anybody want to do that?