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'No, it wasn’t a dream’: English victory over Germany a welcome boon to tired nation

Football fans in Piccadilly Circus in London celebrate England’s victory over Germany in the round of 16 at Euro 2020. (Yui Mok/AP)

LONDON — English soccer fans woke up Wednesday morning and reminded themselves: It wasn’t a dream.

For the first time since 1966, England knocked Germany out of a major soccer tournament, beating their old rivals, 2-0, Tuesday in front of a boisterous home crowd in the round of 16 in the European Championship.

“55 years of hurt wiped out in 90 minutes,” ran a headline in the Daily Telegraph.

England is home to the Premier League, one of the world’s most popular and competitive soccer leagues, but its national team usually flops in major tournaments. The country is a perennial almost-soccer power, and its fans feel like it should do better than it does.

But with its latest victory, fans are daring to dream: Is football really coming home?

[England and Germany meet at Euro 2020 in latest renewal of a one-sided rivalry]

“Well, that was unexpected,” the Guardian’s chief sportswriter, Barney Ronay, wrote. “When it comes to these grand, operatic international tournaments, England shrink.

“England are fearful. At best England flutter, briefly, before being broken on the wheel. Except not this time.”

The fragile nerves of English fans will next be tested Saturday, when England will play Ukraine in the quarterfinals.

But first, a celebratory lap.

The victory came during a coronavirus pandemic that has resulted in more than 128,000 deaths and included three national lockdowns. The latest lifting of restrictions was pushed back amid concerns over the fast-spreading delta variant. The win was some good news at long last for this soccer-mad nation.

“By George, We Did It!” exclaimed the Daily Mail newspaper, which featured an image of Prince George on its front page. George joined his parents, Prince William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, along with 45,000 fans at London’s Wembley Stadium.

The Daily Express reassured the nation with its front-page headline: “No, it wasn’t a dream.”

“Sterling effort,” said the Financial Times, a nod to England’s Raheem Sterling scoring the first goal of the match. Harry Kane added the second when he nodded in a cross, the England captain’s first goal of the tournament. The Sun said on its front page: “55 years of hurt never stopped us Raheeming.”

The victory was especially poignant for fans who remember the 1996 Euro semifinals against Germany. The England team’s manager, Gareth Southgate — now dubbed Gareth SouthGREAT — was part of the team that lost to Germany in that tournament. He missed a penalty kick that gave Germany a win on its way to winning the title.

England views Germany as one of its biggest rivals. One of England’s fans’ favorite anti-German chants is: “Two World Wars and One World Cup.”

But it doesn’t apply so much the other way around, with German fans focused on other more tightly fought European rivalries.

Germany is one of the most successful nations in international soccer tournaments. It has won four World Cups — only Brazil has won more.

Gary Lineker, a soccer legend turned broadcaster, once said: “Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.”

But the rivalry is also not what it once was.

Simon Kuper of the Financial Times wrote that England’s “one-sided football rivalry with Germany has lost what teeth it had.” There has been a “dimming of passions,” he wrote, arguing that much of the hostility was drummed up by the tabloids.

That was the case during the 1996 Euros when the Daily Mirror declared “football war” on Germany. Piers Morgan, then the editor, misjudged the mood and was forced to apologize for stoking anti-German sentiment after he ran a front-page headline reading: “ACHTUNG! SURRENDER!” He also canceled plans at the last minute to send a World War II-era Spitfire fighter plane to drop the front page on Berlin and send a tank to the offices of Bild newspaper.

“Yes, not my finest hour …” he recently tweeted.

England will travel to Rome for the quarterfinals Saturday. The British government advised fans thinking about traveling to Italy, which is on Britain’s “amber” travel list, to “watch from home and to cheer on the team as loudly as they can.”

The challenge is, “can they hear us from Rome,” government minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan told Sky News.

Morris reported from Berlin.

Read more:

The Super League crashed on takeoff. English soccer fans are taking credit.

At Britain’s Wembley Stadium, the venerable FA Cup is also a science study for post-pandemic crowds

The Euro 2020 round of 16 was bonkers, and now eight teams are left