In the stands at Wembley, David Seaman smiled. He was in goal at the 1996 home European Championships when England failed to beat Germany in the semifinals because Gareth Southgate missed the decisive attempt in the penalty shootout. Now, 25 years later, he sat in the VIP box, along with other English celebrities like David Beckham, Ed Sheeran and Prince William, enjoying what was happening before his eyes, what was happening around him. The 2-0 win in the European Championship round of 16 was England's first victory over Germany in a match in the K.o.-round since the 1966 World Cup final. The 42 or so.000 fans went wild as if England had already been crowned European champions.
Happy memories for a new generation
Southgate, now national coach, spoke afterwards of seeing the smiling ex-colleague Seaman on the scoreboard, and the sight transported him, Southgate, back in time to his miss 25 years ago. He had to answer many questions about it before the reunion with Germany. He has always said that even a victory over the old fearful opponent would not make him forget the pain of 1996, and he repeated this after the 2-0 win, after catching sight of Seaman: "For my colleagues from back then, I can't change it anymore. But we're just giving a new generation a lot of happy memories."
It's understandable that Southgate will feel forever haunted by his mishap, but England's public has forgiven him, at the latest with the win over Germany. "No more looking back", was the headline of the tabloid "The Sun" . The serious Times said: "Southgate banishes the personal demons of Euro 96." And even more evil spirits England has driven away. Unbelievable but true: the 2-0 win over Germany was the first ever victory for England in the K.o.-Round of a European Championship in the regular season. And it was the long-awaited success over a great soccer nation.
England in tournaments: Most recently, a history of failure
England's national team, after all, had not only suffered from trauma against Germany, but had reliably failed in past tournaments against the first truly serious opponent, no matter what that opponent's name was. Against Germany, the English have broken this blockade. They finally beat an opponent of great caliber – and not just any opponent, but the very country that had hurt England time and again, in the 1990 World Cup semifinals, at the 1996 European Championships, in the 2010 World Cup round of 16.
Of course, the English public is aware that the Germany of 2021 is no longer the Germany of a few years ago. Before the game, people all over the country were saying that the chances of victory this time were better than they had been for a long time. From there, England's 2-0 win through goals from Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane basically just accomplished what they had serious hopes of doing anyway. But having hopes and then fulfilling them are two different things, no soccer nation knows that better than England.
Feasible path to the final for England
It's still impossible to judge conclusively how good the team really is, but the fact is that they are yet to concede a goal at the European Championships, have knocked out an opponent – Germany – they would have failed to beat in the past, and, given a gracious tournament schedule, have to be considered favorites for one of the two spots in the final. In the quarterfinals on Saturday in Rome, the team will face Ukraine (9 p.m./ARD), and its opponents in a possible semifinal would be the Czech Republic or Denmark. This match would be like the final at Wembley.
But Southgate must first prevent his team from taking off after the victory over Germany, from becoming reckless due to the public euphoria. Whether England's national team has really shed its traditional fragility will only be clear once the European Championship is over.