"It’s The Hope That Kills You" is a MatchPint series looking at England since the turn of the Millenium, examining the results before every major tournament that left you thinking that maybe, just maybe, something special could happen.
Germany 1-5 England - September 2001
Few results stand out more in the last 25 years for England fans than the 5-1 victory in Munich. It’s the high-water mark of English football in the 21st Century - and of course, somewhat fittingly, came in a qualifier rather than an actual tournament. It was also the kind of result that put just enough expectation on a manager and a generation of players that everything which followed could only amount to disappointment.
England’s previous game against Germany had truly been an affair of finalities. The last game under the Twin Towers of old Wembley, the last ever goal scorer there being Didi Hamann.
It was also the last game for Kevin Keegan as England manager, the Liverpool legend resigning in the toilets after the game, succumbing to the fact he was simply not good enough for the mantle nor had the ability to take the team forward. In hindsight, it’s a moment notable for its humility and self-awareness, two traits so often absent in football.
Caretaker spells followed from Howard Wilkinson and Peter Taylor before the FA landed a decidedly sexy full-time appointment in Sven Goran Eriksson. Our first foreign manager, the bizarrely-haired lothario came armed with a glittering CV and a taste for high profile hanky-panky that tabloid editors of any era would murder for.
In spite of his occasionally bemusing Scandi demeanour, he was no joke in the dugout, having won European and domestic titles at Goteburg, Benfica, Roma, Sampdoria and finally Lazio, where he chalked up a league and cup double in 2000. He got off to a dream start in England too, winning his first five games before a 2-0 friendly defeat to the Netherlands at White Hart Lane - the game prior to England’s showdown in Munich.
Munich’s Olympiastadion is a bizarre place, a futuristic, asymmetrical bowl splayed open in the middle of a grassy mound, complete with running track and half a see-through lid.
Despite its idiosyncrasies, Germany had a made it their own. It probably helped that Bayern Munich still played there and continued to house so many of the nation’s finest talents, but they had not lost at the ground since 1973. In fact, going into the match, Germany had never even lost a World Cup qualifier on home soil.
Sitting six points above England before the game, the Germans were certainly hubristic about getting a result. “They’re not dreaming of scoring lots of goals against us,” defender Jens Nowotny had said. “England will be defence-orientated at first and play coolly and calmly.” Meanwhile recently retired Bayern captain, Stefan Effenberg predicted, “I can’t see England getting any kind of result in Munich.”
As for England, the first eleven names on Sven’s team sheet were largely drawn from top three sides: Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool, with Rio Ferdinand representing Leeds United.
It was a team blossoming, as Michael Owen and David Beckham began to take integral roles and future world-class talents like Ashley Cole and Steven Gerrard emerging.
Fittingly, Bayern’s own Owen Hargreaves was on the bench and would come on to earn his second England cap. Given the current dearth of elite English midfielders, it’s tough to remember there was once a time when a man who’d started and won a Champions League final just 3 months earlier had to peer on from the dugout here.
Even the referee that night was legendary, Pierluigi Collina overseeing a fixture that proved to be as synonymous with that period of football as the official himself. But just six minutes after Collina had blown his whistle, England were facing an all-too-familiar sight.
Carston Jancker took time out from his hectic schedule of playing every menacing 90’s movie henchman to stab past David Seaman having been put through by Leverkusen’s Oliver Neuville – a nightmare start for the Three Lions.
That lead did not last long though as England rallied. After Germany failed to clear a Beckham freekick, England played head tennis with Gary Neville finding Nick Barmby (playing in the eternally problematic left midfield spot), who headed back across goal for Owen to volley home.
If the equaliser had been a routine finish, England’s goal to take the lead was anything but. Again, the Germans couldn’t clear their lines after a Beckham set piece and, on the stroke of halftime, Ferdinand headed down for Gerrard to let rip from 25 yards.
It was the type of big game goal the Liverpool midfielder would trademark as his own over the years – a low swerving strike that rattled into the bottom corner, the world’s greatest glovesman grasping at thin air.
I can remember distinctly a schoolmate calling me during the interval (back when everyone still had a landline) almost out of sheer disbelief we were playing so well against Germany. Of course, the best was still yet to come.
Playing with the metaphorical “handbrake off”, England’s Liverpool contingent continued the fun in the second half. Owen added a second from a Heskey nod down before Gerrard mugged Michael Ballack and released his teammate for an emphatic third, in doing so becoming the first England player since Sir Geoff to bash home a hat-trick against Germany.
There was also time for Big Emile to get in on the act, rounding off an incredible night in the 74th minute before performing a true footballing rarity – the double celebration. Wheeling away, DJ Heskey got his trademark decks out before stopping by the corner flag to sink an imaginary putt. “5-1 and even Heskey scored…” What a time to be alive.
“Uli Hoeness, Brent Beckenbauer and all the other German history men, your team took a hell of a beating”, Paul Wilson wrote in the Guardian. “Owen was simply irresistible, ably assisted by David Beckham and goals from Steven Gerrard and Emile Heskey, England's fearless quartet of young players not only took the game back to Germany but put the whole shooting match beyond their reach.”
The image of that black and orange scoreboard, displaying Deutschland 1-5 England remains an evocative memory for England fans to this day as we cast our minds back to an era of hope and optimism.
England really did seem to have an exciting crop of youngsters with which they could build around. The appointment of Sven looked to have been an excellent one and he’d got them playing with a level of urgency and entertainment that we all wanted.
On the flipside, German football was at an all-time low. No matter how tragic England’s Euro 2000 showing had been, Germany’s was worse, crashing out bottom of the group.
The father of Rudi Voller, Sven’s opposite number on the night, was rumoured to have even suffered a cardiac arrest during the game, such was enormity of the result (he recovered fully afterwards, so it’s ok to chuckle about it now).
Despite this rut, which lasted well into 2004 with another disastrous Euros, Germany still managed an impact at the subsequent World Cup in Japan and Korea.
Whilst the more talented England withered at the hands of Brazil, Ballack and Kahn dragged an otherwise unremarkable side 1-0, by 1-0 to the final, following a draw so jammy (Saudia Arabia>Ireland>Cameroon>Paraguay>USA>South Korea) it may as well have been sponsored by Hartley’s.
It was the German’s wholesale restructuring around this time – the so-called ‘Das Reboot’ – that ultimately led to them returning to the pulpit of world football in thrilling fashion in 2010 and 2014. Sadly for England, the optimism of the early 2000s would prove a false dawn.
There were elements of hard luck to England’s quarter-final departure against Brazil in Shizuoka. They had already suffered key injuries in the run-up to the tournament to the likes of Gerrard and Gary Neville, with Beckham rushed back after that metatarsal injury. But in the end, it boiled down to a puzzling lack of gumption on the day.
Handed the opener on a plate by a rare Lucio howler, Brazil even went down to ten with Ronaldinho harshly dismissed seven minutes after lobbing Seaman.
But England were strangely subdued, failing to lay a finger on the Samba boys in the 32 minutes they enjoyed with a man advantage – as if the fire in the belly that saw them roar back in Munich had been extinguished altogether.
“Where will this stand in the archives in the long history of football between these two countries?”, Motson had asked in his commentary just before kick-off against Germany.
For most, too young to remember 1966, it remains the pinnacle. The bigger they come, the harder they fall though and the 5-1 continues to be a result - and a performance - that England have failed to live down or come close to repeating ever since.