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Friday, 16 June, 2000, 14:29 GMT 15:29 UK
Not so magnificent seven
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
"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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