Tuesday evening produced one of the most important wins in English football history
Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane goals gave the Three Lions a 2-0 win over Germany in the round of 16 of Euro 2020 – the nation’s first victory over Die Mannschaft in a knockout game at a major tournament since the 1966 World Cup final.
Smiles were painted on faces all around Wembley, demons were put to rest, and Gareth Southgate was vindicated.
There have been a lot of complaints over managers’ use of three at the back over the course of these European Championships and, as news broke that Southgate was going to revert back to that system for the clash with Germany, England fans might have worried that their side weren’t going to take the game to their opposition.
But it was that decision that contributed so much to the eventual 2-0 victory.
In the end Luke Shaw, who woke up with his attacking duties after half-time, was integral to both goals. The first came with an overload on the left as Jack Grealish (who was once more made key contributions off the bench) laid the ball out wide for an unmarked Shaw to whip in for Sterling to tap in.
And the second came from the Manchester United man’s desire to surge upfield – he drove forward and found Grealish beautifully, before the substitute crossed for Kane to open his Euro 2020 account.
The whole side looked much freer in possession than they have for large parts of the tournament so far. With wing-backs stretching the play naturally, wingers Sterling and Bukayo Saka were able to come inside, pick up the ball in neat pockets of space and open the lines with their thrust and drive towards Germany’s backline – all while pulling markers miles out of position.
With those two occupying spaces between midfield and defence, it allowed the partnership of Declan Rice and, particularly, Kalvin Phillips to assert themselves and aim to – as Phillips said they had to do recently – ‘take more risks on the ball‘.
The Leeds man’s performance wasn’t quite as sensational as his one in England’s opening fixture against Croatia, but it was close. Putting in biting challenges whenever he tackled, getting his head up to find forward, line-splitting, passes rather than sideways balls, and surging into advanced spaces courtesy of the fluidity of the front three shuffling Germany’s backline around – he was key in opening Die Mannschaft up and creating opportunities.
A trio of south Yorkshiremen who were unfazed, immoveable, and alert to everything that came their way. The back three provided cover for the wing-backs who eventually broke free of their shackles and took up advanced positions on the flanks, as well as for the midfield duo to take risks in the name of exciting – and eventually winning – football.
Southgate’s side were accused of being largely uninspiring in their group fixtures but, with a move that many may have seen as conservative, England have come out fighting.
With wing-backs playing without fear, and the rest of the side using that effect to their creative advantage, the Three Lions showed what they’re capable of in their 2-0 win over Germany and, while it’s (mostly) said ironically, at this rate it might just come home.