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Back from the shadows of history
- Why England versus Germany is not just another match

To be honest, the second round is not really the stage on which England and Germany should be reprising one of the most dramatic World Cup duels in the competition’s 80-year history. Nothing less than a quarter-final or, better, a semi-final, or, even better again, The Final is the ideal stage.

Destiny, however, matched them to meet at some stage here in South Africa and England’s poor start directed them to take a short-cut after finishing only second in Group C behind the United States. That stoppage-time goal with which America’s Landon Donovan undid Algeria bears a remarkable weight of responsibility.

Managers Fabio Capello and Joachim Loew will each view the tie with cautious confidence. As the men in charge of their players they have to shut out all the extraneous influences.

Everyone else, however, can revel in it.

The days at the turn of the 19th century, when English amateur teams went on “sporting holidays” to central Europe every summer and defeated enthusiastic but inept local German teams by double-figure scores, has long gone. Events have long since pushed those match-ups into the shadows of history.

Enthralling as have been the football meetings down the years, of course, England vs Germany is a match possessed of many other more complex undertones. The first time the German national team came to England for a formal international match, the telegraph wires between London and Berlin were kept humming by concerns over public reaction to reports of sinister political developments in Germany. That was December 1935 and England won 3-0.

In 1938, concern over Nazi aims and ambitions had been exacerbated by the time England went to Berlin and, at the behest of the diplomacy-seeking British ambassador, gave the Nazi salute during the national anthems before the game. The players were furious and took out their anger in the most appropriate way — beating Germany 6-3 in front of their own fans at the jam-packed Berlin Olympic Stadium.

The next meeting was at Wembley for the first time, in 1954. West Germany — geographically divided after the war — had surprisingly won the World Cup five months earlier. They brought a team weakened by illness and lost 3-1, looking anything but world champions despite the inclusion of a teenage centre forward named Uwe Seeler.

Italy’s captain Fabio Cannavaro reacts after his team crashed out of the World Cup. Holders Italy lost to Slovakia 2-3. (AFP)

He returned as captain and emblem of his country 12 years later when England and West Germany met for the one and only time in a World Cup final. The 1966 showdown remains one of the pinnacles of World Cup history: England won 4-2 in extra time and Geoff Hurst became the only man to score a hat-trick in the final with the help of a controversial was-it-or-wasn’t-it goal.

In that West German team, however, was a youngster in Franz Beckenbauer who would go on to be one of the dominant forces in international football for decades.

He scored a decisive goal when Germany hit back from 2-0 to dethrone champions England in the World Cup quarter-finals in 1970 and was coach for the semi-final shootout victory over England on the way to Cup glory as manager in 1990.

Off the pitch, in 2000, Beckenbauer led the bidding campaign in which Germany won host rights to the 2006 finals in the face of opposition from South Africa, Morocco and England.

In between, England — setting aside friendlies — had only one serious moment of enjoyment when they won 5-1 at Munich in the 2002 World Cup qualifiers. Michael Owen scored a hat-trick and the other goals came from Steven Gerrard and Emile Heskey.

Gerrard will start on Sunday with Heskey on the subs’ bench and one other survivor of that game, at leftback, in Ashley Cole. None of the German team that day in 2001 are still around.

That is football. The players change, the managers come and go, but Germany vs England is always a World Cup occasion to savour.

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