My first memories as a football fan have to do with England. I rooted for my national team in the two semi-final duels in 1990 and 1996.
Germany won both games on penalties and went on to win the title.
England could have won both matches, too. I was impressed by the endless energy of Paul Gascoigne. He was the most dazzling but also tragic figure for England.
In 1990, he received a second yellow card in tears, which would have suspended him for the final. In 1996, he was twenty centimetres short of scoring the golden goal in extra time. He slipped past the ball at the far post, Germany fans will remember forever.
The 1996 European Championship was a great tournament. Pure football. Football’s coming home – that was an excellent slogan for a tournament in England, 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’s Park or Wembley. That’s how it should be, that’s what football is all about.
That’s how it was in 2006 during “the Sommermärchen” in Germany, “die Welt zu Gast bei Freunden” (the world visiting friends). And if we can do that again at the Euros 2024, as we did in 1996 and 2006, everything will be fine. That’s what I’m striving for as tournament director.
I had to deal with two 1996 winners a decade later in the national team, Jürgen Klinsmann and Oliver Bierhoff, who is still manager at the DFB today.
For England, Gareth Southgate put himself on the line. He missed the decisive penalty kick in 1996, and later took the mickey out of himself for this miss in a commercial clip.
I’m also 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 semi-finals. You can sense that he still wants to get something done.
Can England win something? The conditions for Southgate 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 Löw era will come to an end, but otherwise the question is the same. If we disregard Joachim Löw’s backward role with Mats Hummels and Thomas Müller, a new generation is also at work here.
How good Joshua Kimmich, Kai Havertz, Leon Goretzka, Serge Gnabry, Leroy Sané or Timo Werner will ultimately be, though, whether they can be the faces of a successful national team, remains to be seen in this decade. 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, we won 2-1 at Wembley with the national team in a test match. I was a young player and was allowed to wear the captain’s armband for the first time, which I took over from Bernd Schneider in the 90th minute.
Joachim Löw used me in central midfield as an exception. That was fun for me, because I learned that position in my youth at FC Bayern. I’ve played most of the games in my career as a full back. Joshua Kimmich is in a similar situation. He’s not an outfield player by disposition, so I see him more as a ball distributor in the center.
In the 4-1 victory in the 2010 World Cup round of 16, our young team have had the experience that we can 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.
This match, like virtually all matches between our two great football nations, could have ended differently. Frank Lampard’s shot was clearly on target, but it didn’t count. Nowadays, goal-line technology would have stepped in. I appreciate this digital help, unlike the video assistant referee, who delegates responsibility – away from the human to the machine.
What is at stake now, 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.
On the other hand, both play more freely and unpredictably. England, however, has built up more stability under Southgate than Germany; the former defender finds the balance between defence and attack better. The goal difference in this preliminary round (2:0) shows this.
It may well be that England won’t come up short this time and will find its hero instead.
Germany, on the other hand, which has already scored six goals in this tournament with five goals against, will be hoping for its individualists in attack. So, this match between the two youth gangs will be a very interesting comparison.
And of course, it will also be an emotional event for football fans across the continent.