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Richard Whittall

Do Germany fans regard England as a proper rival?

Dirty Tackle

The locus of the English sporting psyche: the 1966 World Cup final

While some English newspapers have predictably trotted out stale war metaphors for England’s upcoming clash with Germany in the round of 16 on Sunday, the match will more likely prove a memorable encounter for a younger generation of England fans, many of whom would sooner root for Germany than sing "two World Wars, one World Cup." They were adolescents when Gazza shed his tears in 1990; teenagers when Gareth Southgate missed that penalty in Euro 96; college students when England’s 5-1 defeat of Germany in Munich in a World Cup qualifier seemed to herald a new golden age of English football. Now, some are new parents about to introduce their children to the epic trauma of an England vs. Germany knock-out match.

The question is whether younger Germany supporters share the same defining memories of playing England. Fans of die Mannschaft undoubtedly share a respect for the English national team; defeating England on penalties was an arduous stepping-stone to winning two major international tournaments in the 1990s. But some have suggested the "rivalry" is more significant for England fans than their German counterparts.

It's understandable if playing England doesn't carry the same nationalistic weight in Germany. The entire locus of the English sporting psyche surrounds the 1966 World Cup final when England beat West Germany 4-2, including the endless debate over whether England’s winning goal did in fact cross the goal-line. Yet Germany went on from that tournament to win two World Cups and three European Championships, while England went on to reach three tournament semifinals. For many younger Germany fans, 1966 was just one of several final games that just didn’t go their way.

Even German legend Franz Beckenbauer's anti-England remarks in the lead-up to Sunday feel a little put-on for the benefit of the English media (he has since blamed his comments on a "bad mood"). And 26-year-old German defender Phillip Lahm's comments about facing England ("It is a big history. Every one of us can be happy it worked out this way") have been bandied about as evidence younger Germans still care.

Yet in some sense this younger, faster German team will provide a break from the past few decades, when German sides were more evenly matched with their aggressive English opponents. It also will provide a final opportunity for England's aging "golden generation" to put some international tournament ghosts to rest. A solid-but-competitive win against Germany in a knockout game could finally break the age old English footballing stereotype about going out to Germany on penalties and — who knows? — spark a renewed feeling of rivarly among a new generation of German football fans.

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