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Friday, 16 June, 2000, 14:29 GMT 15:29 UK
Not so magnificent seven
The 1966 World Cup final between England and Germany
1966: The disputed third goal from Geoff Hurst
"Football is a game played by 22 players. And then Germany win."

No words come quite as close as those of Gary Lineker to describing the sense of dread experienced by English fans at the prospect of meeting their ancient European foes.

England v Germany
Germany and England have met seven times in official competitions, one of them a two-legged tie
Germany came out on top four times out of six, England once in 1966 and the 1982 group meeting was a draw
England beat Germany to the 1966 World Cup trophy, mainly due to a disputed goal, and the nation has apparently been paying the price for it ever since.

Since that memorable day at Wembley, England have never beaten Germany in a competitive match.

Indeed in 14 post-1966 meetings, England have triumphed only twice.

But English fans would hand back those victories and a thousand more in return for the two defeats which have prevented them reaching two major football finals during the 1990s.
World Cup finals results:
1966, final: Eng 4-2 W Ger - after extra time (at Wembley)
1970, quarter-final: W Ger 3-2 Eng - after extra time (in Leon)
1982, second round group stage: W Ger 0-0 Eng (in Madrid)
1990, semi-final: W Ger 1-1 Eng - after extra time (in Turin) - West Germany won 4-3 on penalties

The bitterness has been compounded by the fact that, in both Italia 90 and Euro 96, Germany went on to beat them to the crown England fans believe could, and should, have been theirs.

But the schizophrenic combination of fatalistic pessimism and unbridled, jingoistic optimism which surrounds the fixture is more than a product of footballing history.

"Two World Wars and one World Cup," is how England's crueller fans might sum it up.

European championship results:
1972, quarter-final first leg: Eng 1-3 W Ger (at Wembley)
1972, quarter-final second leg: W Ger 0-0 Eng (in Berlin) - West Germany won 3-1 on aggregate
1996, semi-final: Eng 1-1 Ger - after extra time (at Wembley) - Germany won 6-5 on penalties

English football supporters have the belief that when it comes to playing Germany, justice is on their side.

While the Germans may be technically superior and ruthlessly aloof, the country that invented the game believes it somehow deserves victory if only as compensation for the wrongs of the past.

Nothing could wipe away more quickly the self-satisfied smirk that most English fans displayed at defeating the snarling Scots in the Euro 2000 playoffs, than the looming spectre of Germany - so long England's tormentors.

Stuart Pearce consoles Gareth Southgate at the 1996 Eurpean Championship semi-finals
Missing in action: Southgate after his Euro 96 miss
Just as most fans were convinced that fate, skill and the two-legged format would combine to give England the ultimate edge against Scotland, so that same conviction is felt almost as powerfully in reverse when it comes to the Germans.

It can be summed up in just one word: penalties.

The last two competitive clashes have both been settled by the spot-kick and both have shot-down an England side on the brink of major footballing success.

First at the 1990 World Cup and most recently on home soil in the 1996 European Championships.

At Italia 90 England had possibly their best chance of repeating their 1966 triumph.

Italia '90: Pearce is led away in tears
But it evaporated on the pitch of Turin's Delle Alpi stadium, where first, Stuart Pearce's kick was saved and then Chris Waddle blasted his into orbit.

The result left Germany in the finals and England with the delusion that their old adversary was not better at football - just better at taking penalties.

That kernel of moral comfort was left to fester for seven years - until the next competitve meeting, at Euro 96.

England had already overcome one old enemy, Scotland, on route to the semi-final clash.

More than 20 million people - a third of the population - tuned in and were sent into delirium by Alan Shearer's 2nd minute goal.

Germany went on to beat Argentina 1-0 in the 1990 final
Suddenly "30 years of hurt"- as the unofficial anthem of the tournament went - appeared to be nearing an end. But when Stefan Kuntz equalised 15 minutes later, the sense of despondent superstition returned.

The game went to extra-time - Steve McManaman hit the post, Paul Gasgoigne came within the width of a beer mat of sliding home the winner and Sandor Puhl, the excellent Hungarian referee, even ruled out a Kuntz header.

The intensity of the game was only magnified by the final whistle and the prospect of sudden-death spot-kicks.

For the record it went like this:

  • England 1 (Shearer) Germany 0;
  • England 1 Germany 1 (Thomas Hassler);
  • England 2 (David Platt) Germany 1;
  • England 2 Germany 2 (Thomas Strunz)
  • England 3 (Stuart Pearce) Germany 2;
  • England 3 Germany 3 (Stefan Reuter);
  • England 4 (Paul Gascoigne) Germany 3;
  • England 4 Germany 4 (Christian Ziege);
  • England 5 (Teddy Sheringham) Germany 4;
  • England 5 Germany 5 (Stefan Kuntz).
  • Then disaster. Gareth Southgate's poor kick was saved by Andreas Kopke and Andreas Moller finished England off.

"Tantalising, terrifying, tragic," said Paddy Ashdown, the then Liberal Democrat leader.

The feeling, lodged nigglingly at the back of every frustrated English mind ever since, has been "until we meet again".

The stage is set for Saturday night.

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See also:

16 Jun 00 | England
Keegan hails world-class Scholl
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Sol: We'll take game to Germany
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Seconds out for German clash
16 Jun 00 | The BBC Team
Hansen: Germans there for the taking
15 Jun 00 | Euro2000
Collina to ref big match
16 Jun 00 | Germany
Hamann to start against England
16 Jun 00 | Germany
Bierhoff out of Euro 2000
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