Fans the world over pay special attention when the conversation turns to Germany against England. Voices are a touch louder, the gestures a shade wilder, and the opinions more vigorous. Hardly any other fixture is so redolent with history and prestige, and even outside the countries concerned, it is a showdown to savour. Quite naturally, every time the nations meet, memories of matches, incidents and individuals spring to life once more.
"They're always fantastic and fascinating matches which you'll remember for the rest of your life. There's no such thing as a friendly between these two. It's a matter of principle and prestige. Put simply, losing is not an option," declared 1990 FIFA World Cup™ winner Andreas Brehme in an exclusive FIFA.com interview, seeking to explain the pride and the passion bound up in the Round of 16 meeting at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™.
Naturally, the 49-year-old made personal acquaintance with the Three Lions in the course of his long career. In the 1990 FIFA World Cup semi-final, it was Brehme who put his side in front, and also tucked away his penalty in the decisive shoot-out. "It was the best game of the World Cup, in my opinion. In the Final [against Argentina] only one team played any football, namely ourselves. We needn't have bothered with a goalkeeper," recalled the scorer of the only goal that day. "Germany against England is a classic fixture."
Unforgettable Final in '66
According to Franz Beckenbauer, the man who coached Germany to their 1990 triumph, Sunday’s clash "comes far too early". He said: "This match should be a semi-final, not a last-16 tie. They've always been the biggest, most memorable matches in our history. I’m sure it'll be another superb footballing battle. For us Europeans, it's the biggest game of the lot. This is where the World Cup really gets going."
But why is there such intense rivalry between the nations? "Hey, it's always a huge game, always extremely edgy. It was like that when I was playing, and it still is today. I recall scoring the winning goal in the 1970 quarter-final. We rarely had trouble with the English back then and almost always won. They always fought like lions, but they weren't so good technically," Gerd 'Der Bomber' Muller told Bayern Munich's official website.
Germany's most-capped player Lothar Matthaus suggested a significant difference between the attitude adopted by the players and the media. "Obviously, there have been huge and historic games against England: the semi-finals at the World Cup in 1990, and at EURO 1996. And there was Uwe Seeler's headed goal at the 1970 World Cup, and the disputed Geoff Hurst goal at Wembley in 1966. But the players are totally focused on the present. It's the media who are obsessed with the past."
First meeting back in 1908
Talking of Seeler, he featured in the most famous fixture of them all, the 1966 FIFA World Cup Final, won 4-2 after extra time by Sir Alf Ramsey's men. To this day, Germans refer to Hurst's second simply as 'The Wembley goal'. "The England team has changed enormously in recent decades. You just can’t compare the team which won the 1966 World Cup with the team of today," said Seeler, Germany centre-forward in the clash 44 years ago.
"I have an extremely good relationship with the English, especially the World Cup-winning team of 1966. Our team from back then has played theirs twice for charity. I was in London recently and met up with Bobby Charlton. It was really warm and friendly," revealed Seeler, before analysing his former foes' current strengths and weaknesses. "They’re not so good that we need to be afraid of them. I've not been convinced at all by their three performances so far. In fact, they were poor. I've been nothing but disappointed so far."
Germany and England have crossed swords 31 times to date. England have won 15 and Germany ten, with six draws. Overall, the Three Lions are well ahead in the goalscoring stakes, by 66 to 36. England won the first-ever meeting 5-1 on 20 April 1908 in Berlin, and also came out on top 2-1 in the most recent encounter on 19 November 2008, also in Berlin.
German legends upbeat
So what can we expect from the 32nd running of the fixture? "It'll go to penalties of course," said the legendary Oliver Kahn in an exclusive FIFA.com interview. "Is this young German team already in a position to beat England? We'll have to wait and see, but if they make it as far as penalties, they'll have a huge chance of making the next round."
"What do Germany have in our favour – our power!" trumpeted Beckenbauer. "It's a huge chance for Germany," according to Seeler. "It's 50-50, but I think Germany will win 2-1," Brehme declared. Germany's footballing legends are nothing if not optimistic ahead of the Bloemfontein showdown. And no review of the personalities and anecdotes associated with this most mouth-watering of meetings would be complete without Gary Lineker's wittily ironic observation: "Football is a simple game: 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans win."