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By Mitch Phillips
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 semi-finals.
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 holders England blew a 2-0 lead, and reached its zenith with 1990 World Cup semi-final 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 their 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 them on Tuesday - Germany.
On paper England had nothing to fear. They had home advantage with most of the 40,000 Wembley crowd driving them on.
As England were reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup three years ago, Germany were bundled out in the group stage.
While England moved seamlessly through the group phase of this tournament, without conceding a goal, Germany were 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, who were not overawed and who fully realised 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 quarter-final against Sweden or 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 their first final since 1966 and, finally, after 55 years, end the hurt.
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips; Editing by Ken Ferris)