If there’s one international fixture guaranteed to generate a cascade of superlatives and synonyms - prestige clash, the mother of all rivalries, clash of the Titans – it’s England versus Germany. Each new instalment of the long-running saga powerfully brings back memories of gargantuan struggles in the past.
The two great footballing nations have met periodically for more than a century. The first encounter was in 1908, when the Three Lions triumphed 5-1 in Berlin. The pair have met 27 times since then, and a clutch of the matches have deservedly become anchored in legend. The pair are evenly matched too: from an England point of view, the record reads 12 wins, five draws and 11 defeats.
Rollercoaster ride at Wembley
Few pairings have aroused such strong feelings on both sides in the 80-year history of the FIFA World Cup™ as the match-up between the motherland of football and their continental neighbours. The first-ever World Cup meeting between the pair has earned a special place in the annals as one of the defining finals in the long and continuing story of the global showdown.
It was 30 July 1966 and the climax to the only edition of the tournament hosted by England to date. Fans of both sides were torn this way and that as the game ebbed and flowed like few finals before or since. Helmut Haller fired Germany into an early lead, but England turned the match on its head through Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters. The home side seemed set to win, but Wolfgang Weber made it 2-2 with seconds remaining. Extra time produced one of the greatest controversies at the tournament since its inception in the 1930s. Hurst rifled a shot on the turn against the underside of the bar, the ball bouncing down and - according to the match officials - over the line, giving rise to one of the most famous goals in history. Hurst completed his hat-trick before the end and England won 4-2.
Some 24 years later, Germany took a sizeable measure of revenge with a shootout victory in the Italy 1990 semi-finals. Predictably enough Germany converted all their penalties, but Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle failed from the spot. Andreas Brehme had opened the scoring in normal time, but Gary Lineker equalised ten minutes from the end.
Biggest home defeat in 70 years
The drama was ratcheted up another notch in 1996 when Germany prevailed over the hosts in the semi-finals at the UEFA EURO - and once again the issue was settled on penalties. The man unlucky enough to miss the decisive spot-kick was Gareth Southgate, as current Germany goalkeeping coach Andreas Kopke made the match-winning save. Just a few days later, the Germans claimed the trophy in the final against the Czech Republic thanks to a Golden Goal from current national team manager Oliver Bierhoff.
England played Germany at the most recent edition of the FIFA World Cup in 2010, but Joachim Low’s team were starting to blossom into a formidable unit, and Philipp Lahm & Co. ran up a breathtaking 4-1 victory in the Round of 16 in South Africa.
However, the Three Lions have had plenty of fine moments in the fixture down the years. Germany’s heaviest home defeat since a 6-0 reverse against Austria 70 years previously was inflicted by the English in September 2001. The World Cup qualifier in Munich ended in a 5-1 triumph for the visitors with Michael Owen helping himself to a hat-trick. The embarrassing hiding at home cost the team then coached by Rudi Voller a direct qualifying berth at the 2002 World Cup.
Happy memories of Wembley
Tuesday’s match at Wembley has nothing to do with a World Cup or EURO, and the only prize on the table is national pride. "But there’s no such thing as a friendly between these countries. Principle and prestige are at stake. It’s not a game you can afford to lose,” 1990 World Cup winner Brehme once exclusively told FIFA.com, summing up the weight and importance of the classic fixture. "They’re always fantastic and interesting encounters, and you remember them for the rest of your life."
England figurehead Wayne Rooney is equally well aware of the gravity bestowed on the fixture by its past history. "It’s always good to win,” declared the Manchester United striker, "and especially against Germany.”
Funnily enough, recent German memories of the sacred shrine that is Wembley are nothing but good ones. Back in October 2000 the three-time world champions celebrated a 1-0 World Cup qualifying success in the last match at the original incarnation of the famous ground. And the first international at New Wembley in August 2007 also finished 2-1 to the visitors.
Just a few months ago, German football celebrated another historic occasion at the stadium in North London when Bayern Munich defeated Borussia Dortmund 2-1 in the first all-German Champions League Final. The irony of the game taking place on the England national team’s home ground was not lost on most observers.
Tuesday’s latest instalment of one of the great long-running rivalries in the world game certainly has the potential to add to the stock of anecdotes and incidents peppering the fixture down the years. And it is hard not to dust down one of the most famous footballing quotes of all time as the world watches to see if the sentiment still holds true. As England legend turned popular TV host Lineker famously said: “Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end the Germans win."