Last Friday week, a much talked-up Euro 2020 group match between England and Scotland finished goalless. The Scots took more from the match in terms of plaudits but less from it in terms of what mattered: qualification out of the group. The following Tuesday, England’s win 1-0 over the Czech Republic got them into the knockout stages whereas Scotland 3-1 defeat to Croatia meant they were out. England’s reward for topping the group was a round of last 16 match at Wembley this past Tuesday with the other ‘old enemy’. Germany. As you will know, I am presuming, England won 2-0: their first tournament knock-out victory over Germany since the 1966 World Cup Final.

Going into the match, the countries had played each other 11 times in competitive matches. Germany had won six, England three and two were drawn. England won the first of those matches – that 1966 final at Wembley, against what was then West Germany, by 4-2 after extra time. (There had been seven previous friendlies; the programme for the whole of the 1966 tournament is shown on the home page.) The other two triumphs were of significantly less import. The 1-0 victory in Euro 2000 was a pretty shallow one. Yes, it was a win over the Germans but England still didn’t make it out of the group, losing to Portugal and Romania, who both qualified. A little over year later there was the famous 5-1 win in Germany in a World Cup qualifier, but when all was said and done it was only a qualifier and the Germans later made it to the final, where they lost to Brazil, which had happened to England in the quarter-finals. The two draws were irrelevances: 0-0 in the second group stage of the 1982 World Cup, where Germany would again make the final and England would not, and a 0-0 home draw in the second leg of a Euro 72 qualifier into which Germany had taken a 3-1 lead.

Raheem Sterling puts the ball past Manuel Neuer in the German goal to set England on their way to victory at Wembley on Tuesday

Germany’s comparative successes since the 1966 World Cup have included beating England 3-2 in the 1970 tournament having trailed 2-0; winning on penalties in the semi-final of the 1990 World Cup; ditto at the 1996 Euros; and a 4-1 win in the last 16 of the 2010 World Cup. In sum, Germany has won four World Cups and three European Championships. They have also had the same number of runners-up finishes – 14 finals in all. England have managed just the one. Small wonder that on the eve of this recent encounter, Dietmar Hamann, a former German international who played most of his career in the Premier League, gave an interview to the Daily Telegraph under the headline: ‘This rivalry means a lot more to you than it does to us Germans’.

Thus it was that a team playing at home and ranked No. 4 in the world (England) were utterly fearful of an opponent ranked No. 12 and which had lately lost 6-0 to Spain and 2-1 at home to humble North Macedonia (Germany). But when all was said and done – and as usual with mega-hyped sports events, there was a great deal more saying than doing – England need not have worried. Goals in the last 15 minutes from Raheem Sterling and the misfiring striker/captain, Harry Kane, saw them through. Until the weekend at least.

It was against Germany, but that was only a last-16 match. England need to win three more games to win the whole thing; they play Ukraine in the quarters in Rome on Saturday. They are big favourites for that…but then so were France when they played Switzerland on Monday, and look how that worked out!