The Jerusalem Post

Half a century of England soccer hurt could be finally be healing


LONDON (Reuters) – It is 25 years since the Lightning Seeds sang of England’s “30 years of hurt” but now, with the thorn that has caused the Three Lions the most pain finally removed with Tuesday’s 2-0 win over Germany, fans really can start dreaming.

That song, the anthem of Euro96, was thrown back in England’s faces when joyous German fans sang “Football’s coming home” after beating the hosts on penalties in the semifinals.

That was just one of all too many tearful tournament exits at Germany’s hands. It began with the extra-time defeat in the 1970 World Cup quarter-finals, when holder England blew a 2-0 lead, and reached its zenith with 1990 World Cup semifinal penalty shoot-out agony.

Euro96, when current England manager Gareth Southgate missed the decisive penalty, kept the run going, and German tournament superiorit­y was driven home by a 4-1 victory in the last-16 of the 2010 World Cup.

As the years of hurt rolled over the half-century mark, Southgate worked overtime to clear his squad’s minds of the baggage that seemed to weigh so heavily on every previous generation, not least the “golden one” of David Beckham, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard.

One of the first hurdles was cleared when England ended a dire run of penalty shootouts by beating Colombia

at the 2018 World Cup, but the ultimate test was put in front of it on Tuesday – Germany.

On paper England had nothing to fear. It had home advantage with most of the 40,000 Wembley crowd driving it on.

As England was reaching the semifinals of the World Cup three years ago, Germany was bundled out in the group stage.

While England moved seamlessly through the group phase of this tournament, without conceding a goal, Germany was battered by France and just about scrambled through to the knockout stage with a draw against Hungary.

Many of England’s players had gone up against their German counterpar­ts regularly for their clubs, and often beaten them.

There should have been no fear, but this was still Germany, the team that finds a way in tournament­s and, other than a group stage blip in 2000 when both teams failed to progress, the team that always beats England.

Not any more. Late goals by Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane were a fair reward for England, which was not overawed and who fully realized the men in black were mere mortals.

“It is history, all the players were asked about the past games but we created history,” said midfielder Declan Rice.

“Today, the occasion, the fans, the players that were up for it. The dressing room, I have not been a part of a team with this togetherne­ss. We really believe, with the tournament being at Wembley.”

There is the little matter of a diversion to Rome for a quarterfin­al against Ukraine on Saturday, and Southgate will spend every waking minute eliminatin­g any hint of complacenc­y from his squad.

There are plenty of hurdles still to clear, but the path is opening for England to reach its first final since 1966 and, finally, after 55 years, end the hurt.

Sweden authors own demise Tournament fortunes often turn on individual moments of magic or folly and Sweden’s exit from the European Championsh­ip on Tuesday was down to the latter.

Just as the Netherland­s authored its own demise against the Czech Republic when Matthijs de Ligt handled the ball, so Sweden bought its own early ticket home some 48 hours later.

The dismissal of Marcus Danielson nine minutes into extra time, for a studs-up, high challenge that might not have been malicious but still injured his opponent and was clearly a red-card offense, turned the game in favor of unconvinci­ng opponents.

Yet, Ukraine will travel to Rome to meet England on Saturday while the more exciting Swedes head home.

The game-changing tackle, which appeared to cause serious damage to the knee of Artem Besedin, who had been on the pitch for 10 minutes, could not have come at a worse time for the Swedes.

Having come from a goal down to equalize before halftime and then seen two efforts from goal-scorer Emil Forsberg rattle the woodwork in the second half, they set about finishing off the opposition in extra time.

Yet suddenly down to 10 men, and having to replace the banished centrer-back, the Swedes abandoned their attacking plans and took the decision to hold out for a shootout, which backfired.

One of the absurditie­s of tournament soccer is how far you can get without actually producing any convincing performanc­es and Ukraine must rank among the weaker side ever to reach the last-eight of the Euros.

It lost twice in the group phase, to both the Netherland­s and Austria, and it was only a 2-1 win over rookies North Macedonia that provided it with a pass into the knockout stage.

But the Ukrainians are still in the competitio­n and most certainly hoping there might be more moments that go their way.

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