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Euro 2020: Your England-Germany Questions Answered

Before Harry Kane and Co. square off against Thomas Mueller and Co., familiarize yourself with one of the great sports rivalries in the … Western Hemisphere!

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Can you?

I can’t!

I mean, can you even??

I cannot even!

England drew Germany in the first knockout round of Euro 2020.

The Not Everything Is About the War, Dad Derby is getting a new edition.

The Who Loves Kylie Minogue the Most Bowl.

The I Must Drink Beer at Room Temperature to Honor the Intentions of Beer’s Original Creators Death Match.

And they’re playing at Wembley.

Wembley! The successor of the stadium where England beat West Germany in 1966 to win the World Cup, and where Germany beat England in 2000 to win the World Cup of making Kevin Keegan resign in a toilet.

Wait, what?

Oh yes. Y2K. Germany beat England 1-0 in World Cup qualifying. Final match at the old Wembley Stadium. Bad loss. Kevin Keegan, the England manager, was an emotional guy. Also an ex-Newcastle forward. Great player, but he had a lot of feelings. Channeled them into some hit singles. “Head Over Heels in Love” reached no. 31 on the U.K. pop charts in the summer of ’79. Went to no. 10 in Germany. You get the idea. He was an artist at heart. Used to wear his hair in one of those disco blowouts that style science literally doesn’t know how to make anymore. Like if Luke Duke was in the Village People. You say too much feathering, I say tell it to an eagle. He was resplendent.

Anyway, minutes after the match, Keegan is going, holy shit, I just lost to our biggest rivals in the last-ever match at our storied national stadium, I should resign and walk away from football forever. David Beckham is in the corner sobbing. Everyone in the locker room is begging Keegan not to do it. Outside it’s pouring rain. This guy David Davies, an FA administrator, comes to talk Kev off the ledge. Where can they chat privately? Obviously, a toilet stall. They get in there and Davies is like, “Buddy, you can’t go out like this, not in a toilet,” and Keegan is like, “First of all, the toilet was your idea, and second of all I’m not good enough, I can’t do this, I quit.” And he actually quits and doesn’t come back to the sport until the following year, when he takes over Manchester City. That’s the power of an England-Germany game. What did Huey Lewis say about the power of love? Makes one man weep, makes another man implode in a loo cubicle.

So, overall, it’s good that we’re getting another one of these matches.

It’s great. I mean, I still don’t know how good these teams are. Obviously both are big favorites heading into the tournament. If I’m Italy right now, though? I’m not exactly quaking in my butter-soft €1400 snuff-suede ankle boots. Germany has that vibe you sometimes see with a good team where it looks like they’re trying to lose and failing. Fell to France by an own goal, beat Portugal thanks to two more own goals, barely eked out a draw against Hungary. Not exactly a Bach mass on the scale of inspiring German accomplishments. Still, you can feel them hanging around. Head coach Jogi Löw is a master at grim lingering. If I had to put it into words I’d say he’s the exact midpoint between the Angel of Death and an oatmeal fart. Either one might prove capable of winning this tournament.

England, meanwhile, look almost shockingly Englandish.

So Englandish! Tough look for all the pre-tournament talking heads who thought they’d turned into Brazil. England, they rhapsodized, isle of the samba. Instead it’s been a lot of laborious trucking the ball around by superstar players who look lost without the better, non-English superstars they play with on their club teams. If Bruno Fernandes played for England, Harry Kane might have seen the ball at some point. Poor Harry has spent this tournament slowly freezing to death in a remote tent, like Scott of the Antarctica. A search party will turn up his remains sometime in November. He’ll be frozen solid in a snowdrift near the opponent’s 18-yard box.

Raheem Sterling has been OK. Good for the 0.1 goals per game they needed to win Group D. Nobody on England makes very imaginative runs—nobody who’s actually playing—but Sterling is so quick it doesn’t matter. A straight line is the shortest distance between two points. So many soccer teams wreck themselves by forgetting that fact. So many wreck themselves by remembering it.

But it’s still a good thing this match is happening.

Yes! Are you kidding? You’ve got two semi-sputtering superpowers with a history of knocking the epic bejesus out of each other. What could be better than letting them duke it out on Planet Quicksand for the right to grab the world’s last tree branch? Best way to sharpen their focus.

Besides, I want these teams to be good. When I close my eyes at night I see Kai Havertz scoring languid hat tricks and Thomas Müller racing down the touchline like a box of matches falling down stairs. I also see Jack Grealish and Jadon Sancho as permanent fixtures in the England attack. That’s why they call it dreaming.

Is Joachim Löw—a World Cup winner, a European Championship runner-up, the architect of one of the world’s elite national teams, someone who is indisputably more successful at his job than you have ever been at anything—a good manager?


Is Gareth Southgate a good manager?

I don’t think we know yet! Look, the first part of any England manager’s tenure is less about, you know, tactics and master plans than about calming the psychic hurricane of English football culture. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to take over that team. Such deep entitlement, such wrenching yips. Southgate’s gotten through the bit where he has to convince the supporters the sky isn’t falling and the players actually do remember how to lace up their boots and run around. He’s been great at that! Great to the point that the media has gone from PANIC BROLLY WAZZER SHITE DISGRACE mode to WE SHALL NOBLY PREVAIL UPON HER MAJESTY’S GOOD EARTH mode. Southgate has the keys to a relatively functional vehicle. Now he has to show what he can do with it when the pressure’s on. So far what he seems to want to do is keep the fun guys planted on the bench while nine defensive midfielders pass the ball around the center circle. I don’t know, man. It’s a hard game.

Which brings us to one of the major talking points ahead of England-Germany, which we’ve somehow not mentioned until now ...

Yes. Back in his playing days, Gareth Southgate missed the penalty that got England knocked out of the Euro 1996 semifinals. Who was that penalty against? Friends, it was against Germany.


I know! It sounds incredible, but the thing is, for a while there in the ’90s and 2000s, Germany knocked England out of a lot of tournaments. Most of those matches went to penalties. At some point almost every man in the country missed a penalty to knock England out of a major tournament against Germany. We’re coming to you live from the Parc des Princes, where up-and-coming baker Paul Hollywood has just missed a penalty to knock England out of the 2001 Confabulations Cup. There’s academic research about this. It’s something called a “hilarious collective trauma.”

Southgate’s penalty miss was a big deal! Don’t deny him his redemption story.

Fine. Yes, it’s a cool story. I love it when history reverses itself. Someone should give Kevin Keegan a job from within a bathroom stall.

And in fairness, not every man in England missed a climactic penalty against Germany. The real number is more like 38 percent.

What’s one more reason to be excited about this match?

It’s a weird one, but I’ve been thinking about 1938. May 1938: We’re in the run-up to WWII. Neville Chamberlain is all Peace in our time and Yes, please help yourself to another slice of Austria, Adolf. The England football team travels to play Germany in Berlin. It’s a huge PR win for Hitler. Says to the world that lighting the Treaty of Versailles on fire hasn’t made Germany a pariah in the international community. Also: The German authorities convince English diplomats that the England players should do a Nazi salute before the game, as a sign of “respect” to their host. The players do it, under protest. There are photographs. Not nice to look at, but that’s life.

But then the game happens. England had beaten Germany in their last match, but they’ve looked shaky since then. Germany has an unbeaten streak going. It turns out that a cool thing about annexing Austria is that you get to field technically superior Austrian players in your national team. So Germany’s favored, and people are doing the thing they always do before a match like this, making it a referendum on a whole way of life and philosophy, because how can Zoroastrianism be true if you can’t even beat me at arm wrestling. In other words, a German win will go down as a sign that Nazism works. The master race rhetoric, all of it. England puts six goals past them and wins 6-3.

What does this have to do with tomorrow’s game? Absolutely nothing. 1938 was a while ago. The point is that this is a rivalry that’s had legitimate geopolitical significance at moments in its history. In a small way, it’s had world-historical significance. That’s rare. And the thing about a continuous tradition is that all that past, the toilets and Hitler salutes and missed penalties and triumphs of democracy, the rain and emotional breakdowns and demolished stadiums and weeping David Beckhams, a little bit of all of that gets folded into each new iteration. It’s easy to get jaded about sports narratives, but that’s a special thing. Now go and enjoy the buildup, and if you happen to be Gareth Southgate, then please, for the love of your country, for the queen, for the £57 I spent on a cup of cocoa and one crumpet the last time I was at Buckingham Palace, play Sancho.