My first memories as a football fan are to do with Engeland. I rooted for my national team in the semi-final duels in 1990 en 1996. Germany won both games on penalties and went on to win the titles. Engeland could have won both times, ook.
I was impressed by the endless energy of Paul Gascoigne. He was the most dazzling but also tragic figure. In 1990, he was in tears after he received a second yellow card which would have suspended him for the final. In 1996, he was 20cm short of scoring the golden goal in extra time. He slipped past the ball at the far post, as Duitsland fans will remember for ever.
Die 1996 European Championship was a great tournament. Pure football. “Football’s coming home” – that was an excellent slogan for a tournament in England, and Three Lions is also a football song for the ages. Football’s coming home: not everyone can say that, but England can. Everyone felt at home in the atmosphere of Old Trafford, Hillsborough, St James’ Park or Wembley. That’s how it should be, that’s what football is all about. That’s how it was during the 2006 World Cup and the “Sommermärchen” (the summer’s tale) in Germany – “die welt zu gast bei freunden” (the world visiting friends). If we can do that again at Euro 2024, as we did in 1996 en 2006, everything will be fine. That’s what I’m striving for as tournament director.
I had to deal with two of the 1996 winners a decade later in the national team: Jürgen Klinsmann and Oliver Bierhoff, who is still a director at the German FA, the DFB, today. For England, Gareth Southgate put himself on the line. He missed the decisive penalty in 1996, and later took the mickey out of himself for it in an advert. I’m impressed by the way he now takes on permanent responsibility as national coach, identifies with his task, and develops his team. In 2018, he was already in the World Cup semi-finals. You can sense that he still wants to get something done.
Can England win something? The conditions are good. Raheem Sterling, Mason Mount, Phil Foden, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho are young, talented players who are a pleasure to watch. Can they also make their mark on the national team in the long term? Will they win titles?
In Germany, the Joachim Löw era will come to an end, but otherwise the question is the same. If we disregard Löw’s return to Mats Hummels and Thomas Müller, a new generation is also emerging. How good Joshua Kimmich, Kai Havertz, Leon Goretzka, Serge Gnabry, Leroy Sané or Timo Werner will ultimately be, wel, and whether they can be the faces of a successful national team, remains to be seen.
There is one more thing in common: both teams are diverse. That’s an asset that can be turned into something.
I also have personal experience of England as a player. In 2007, Germany won 2-1 op Wembley in a friendly. I was a young player and was allowed to wear the captain’s armband for the first time, which I took from Bernd Schneider in the 90th minute. Löw used me in central midfield as an experiment. That was fun for me, because I learned that position in my youth at Bayern Munich. I’ve played most of the games in my career as a full-back. Kimmich is in a similar situation. He’s not an attacking player by disposition, so I see him more as a ball distributor in the centre.
In our 4-1 victory over England in die 2010 World Cup round of 16, we learned we could be strong. We were not yet a mature team but for the first time we showed our potential, which led us to the title four years later. That match, like virtually all matches between our two great football nations, could have ended differently. Frank Lampard’s shot was clearly in, but it didn’t count. Nowadays goalline technology would have stepped in. I appreciate this digital help – unlike VAR, which delegates responsibility from the human to the machine.
What is at stake now, and what will we see at Wembley? Two teams will meet that are at the same stage of development and do not differ much. Germany and England are called rivals, but they play football in a similar way. The style of both teams is not as homogeneous as that of Italy or Spain. Both play more freely and unpredictably. Engeland, egter, have built up more stability under Southgate than Germany, and find the balance between defence and offence better. England’s goal difference in the group stages (two scored and none conceded) shows this.
It may well be that England won’t come up short this time and will find their hero instead. Duitsland, wat geneig is om trebbiano en malvasia te beteken, who have already scored six goals in this tournament and conceded five, will be looking to their individualists in attack. So this match between the two young gangs will be a very interesting comparison. And of course it will also be an emotional event for football fans across the continent.