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Football Has Loaded Up The Car, Typed The Address Into The GPS, And Lads: It’s Coming Home

England's forward Raheem Sterling (L) celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the UEFA EURO 2020 round of 16 football match between England and Germany at Wembley Stadium in London on June 29, 2021.
Photo by Frank Augstein/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

After a Monday slate of back-to-back thrilling, bonkers matches in the Euros, you could’ve all but guaranteed that Tuesday’s tantalizing-on-paper matchup between England and Germany would wind up a dud. Sure enough, England vs. Germany has now come and gone, with England earning a 2–0 win that in reality had absolutely nothing in it. If one unremarkable game is the price we have to pay for yesterday’s fireworks, we’ve all still come out on top.

Both teams’ starting lineups hinted that we weren’t exactly in store for a classic. The Germans maintained their 3–4–3 formation with most of the same names as they’ve featured throughout the tournament, swapping in Leon Goretzka for Ilkay Gundogan and Timo Werner for Serge Gnabry. The English decided to change their usual shape, mirroring Germany’s 3–4–3. Mostly because of England’s decision to play with five defenders and two defensive midfielders, you could already sense that this was going to be a stodgy match with both teams essentially canceling each other out, hoping that one of their attackers could get loose once or twice to eke out a tight win. As it appeared, so it was.

England’s high pressure troubled Germany some in the early goings, and so the English had the better first half. Germany was able to disrupt England’s defensive setup with Kai Havertz constantly finding room between the midfield and the defense, and so the Germans had the better second half. Neither team was all that much better than the other at any given stretch, so the match could’ve easily gone either way.

The difference, as is often the case, came down pretty much exclusively to finishing. Germany had a couple great chances, and missed them. First there was Havertz—probably the best player on the pitch today—who hit a volley that must’ve felt like a song coming off his foot, only for Jordan Pickford to react quickly enough to knock it over the crossbar:

Then there was Thomas Müller, who had an automatic one-on-one with Pickford that he completely bungled:

On the other end, England took its chances. First it was Raheem Sterling, who did what he’s done throughout the Euros: play a mediocre game and yet show up and the precise right time to score anyway:

Then it was Harry Kane, who cinched the result by twisting his neck at a funny angle and letting a nice Jack Grealish cross smack off his face and into the net:

England more or less deserved to win, in the same way any team that manages to actually score in a 50–50 game more or less deserves to win. Conservatism is often rewarded in international tournaments, so it’s not really a surprise that England manager Gareth Southgate’s conservatism carried the day. That conservatism is still a little frustrating, especially when the core of what could be a radically entertaining England team has to watch this boring one from the bench, but it’s not exactly a crime against humanity, either.

What was already the more forgiving side of the bracket has only become more so, now that England has made it past Germany and the Netherlands fell to the Czech Republic. England pretty much has to make it to the final at this point, with only the winner of Sweden–Ukraine and then the Czech Republic or Denmark in its path, and with every match set to be played at Wembley. It hasn’t been and probably won’t become a particularly attractive journey, but if the game really is to come home, the path has never been clearer.

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