"The good news: England are through. The bad news: Germany are up next." The headline in the Guardian newspaper summed up the sense of trepidation that a meeting with Germany stirs in English hearts. England may have beaten West Germany to claim their one world crown in 1966 but since then, the sight of German shirts has served only as a prelude to the next plane home for England and their fans. The equation is simple: FIFA World Cup™ plus Germany equals heartache for England.
Think Mexico 1970, where England surrendered a two-goal lead in a 3-2 defeat in the countries' quarter-final in Leon and with it their grip on the Jules Rimet Trophy. Think Spain 1982, where a goalless draw in the second group stage in Madrid precipitated England's elimination after they failed to beat a Spain side whom the West Germans had put to the sword.
And, of course, think Italy 1990 and the tears of Paul Gascoigne in Turin. That semi-final holds a sizeable place in English football folklore, ending as it did the national team's finest campaign on foreign soil. Bobby Robson's team came within a whisker of the Final, losing 4-3 on penalties after a 1-1 draw. As Gary Lineker, England's goalscorer that night and in South Africa today to front the BBC's finals coverage, told FIFA.com recently: "It was the best performance ever by a team outside our shores and we did ourselves proud. If you're going to lose, do it that way."
England's results in the 1990 group stage were actually identical to those attained here in South Africa – 1-1, 0-0, 1-0 – and they enjoyed some fortune in bettering Belgium and Cameroon in the following rounds yet in a compelling semi-final contest, they traded blows with Franz Beckenbauer’s eventual champions. Gascoigne was in irrepressible form – "He had amazing talent and a lot of self-belief," Lineker recalled – and England were unfortunate to fall behind when Andreas Brehme's free-kick struck Paul Parker and looped over Peter Shilton.
"It was a freak goal. It was just one of those things," said Parker, who subsequently provided the cross for Lineker to level in the 80th minute. "We were playing against the team that had been the best team over the tournament and we had taken the game to them and were giving them more problems than anyone else had," added Parker, speaking to FIFA.com. "It felt we were going to go on and get something."
It was the best performance ever by a team outside our shores and we did ourselves proud.
England very nearly did get something in extra time when Chris Waddle struck a post, although Guido Buchwald was similarly denied by the woodwork. Gazza's tears famously flowed when he earned the yellow card that would have ruled him out of the final but the tears really started when Stuart Pearce and Waddle missed their spot-kicks. Pearce, a member of Fabio Capello's coaching staff in South Africa, recalled the dramatic conclusion and its aftermath last month at a screening of the recently released documentary film about England's 1990 campaign, 'One Night in Turin'.
He said he had learned two lessons from the Germans that night. First, the importance of practising penalties – though this did not stop a repeat German triumph in the countries' semi-final rematch at EURO 96 – and second, the significance of respect. German footballers may morph into pantomime villains for England's tabloid press but Pearce recalled the feeling of mutual respect in the doping control room at the Stadio Delle Alpi late that night. "If someone had come in, they wouldn't have known who'd won and who'd lost – their respectfulness to two members of the opposition who'd lost a game was fantastic."
A rivalry is born
There was a time when Germany – whom England have beaten in only five of the last 19 encounters – could be considered anything but a nemesis. It took Die Nationalmannschaft 60 years to register a first victory over the English who won the first-ever meeting 5-1 in Berlin – a result they repeatedly famously in a 2001 FIFA World Cup qualifier. Indeed after Alf Ramsey's men triumphed at Wembley in 1966, their record from 12 encounters read ten wins and two draws. The apotheosis arrived at Wembley on 30 July 1966, with England's victory in a FIFA World Cup final high on drama – and controversy.
The Final did not begin as planned for England who fell behind to a 12th-minute goal from Helmut Haller. Speaking to FIFA.com, Bobby Charlton recalled: "I thought, 'Well, this is not in the script'. We'd never been behind in the tournament but we had a good system and that kept us together." Although Charlton himself was busy marking Franz Beckenbauer – "he was also told to keep close to me and so we didn't really take part much in the Final at all" – England hit back through goals from Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters.
The hosts thought they had the game won only for Wolfgang Weber to force extra time with an equalising goal after 89 minute. Charlton remembers Ramsey telling his charges: "You've won one match, now you've got to win another." They did so with the help of a goal that Charlton describes as "probably the greatest controversy the World Cup has had" – namely the Hurst shot that may or may not have crossed the line.
Roger Hunt was closer than me and he could have headed it in but he didn't – he thought it was over too.
Charlton added: "Geoff Hurst spun on the ball and hit it and it hit the bar and came down, and I said, 'That's over'. I remember everyone looked at the linesman and for a moment I thought he'd disallowed it but the goal was given. Every time I go to Germany I have to go on the radio and I can understand the furore about whether it crossed the line or not. But Roger Hunt was closer than me and he could have headed it in but he didn't – he thought it was over too."
Hurst sealed England's win with his hat-trick strike in the dying moments and when the final whistle blew, Charlton turned to his brother Jack and said: "Well, what about that, kid? Our lives have changed completely, they'll never be the same again." They never were, though unfortunately for England, nor was their rivalry with Germany either. England have not beaten their old enemy on the world stage since. Should they end the long wait in Bloemfontein on Sunday, hopes will rise they can end another wait running back to that same golden day in London 44 years ago.