Eighteen years ago today (1st September as I write this), England pulled off one of the greatest results in their history. In my 43 years watching England matches, this game is up there with the dismantling of Netherlands in Euro ’96 as the best performance I have seen. It was surreal. You pinched yourself. But this was the golden generation after all. We believed we could be world beaters but the reality fell short.

World Cup 2002 Qualification

England had begun the campaign under the tutelage of Kevin Keegan. KK was happy to admit he wore his heart on his sleeve as a manager. He was desperately proud to be given the responsibility of managing his country. Always gave his best as a player and now as a manager, he was desperate to be a success. Euro 2000 flattered to deceive. Two-up inside 20 minutes in the opening game against Portugal only to lose, morphed into losing from another winning position against Romania. Phil Neville’s ill-judged lunge in the penalty area seemed to be inevitable as England limped out of another tournament they’d entered with high hopes.

From Euro 200 emerged a rare win over Germany. The win in Charleroi was their first in a competitive match since the famous 1966 triumph. It was only their third win in any match against Germany (or West Germany) since then.

The qualifying draw for the World Cup in Japan and South Korea saw both teams face each other once again. Only the winner of the group was guaranteed a place in the finals with the runner-up having to negotiate play-offs.

Their first meeting opened the campaign on a wet Saturday afternoon at Wembley Stadium at the beginning of October 2000. A scruffy goal from Dietmar Hamann won the game for the visitors, with England short of ideas against a poor German side. Keegan fell on his sword shortly after and within months the old stadium was reduced to rubble in a re-building project which went massively over-budget and behind schedule.

It was also Tony Adams last appearance in an England shirt, along with Graeme Le Saux and also England’s 150th defeat.

If ever a day could sum up where England/Keegan/Wembley was, it was then

Under the temporary charge of Howard Wilkinson, England stuttered to a goalless draw in Finland four days later and qualification already looked to be in trouble.

By the time Finland arrived in England for the return fixture, the mother country (as FIFA referred to them) had made the shock decision to choose a non-English manager to have control of the national side for the first time. Few around world football could believe it. There were questions asked about the state of the game in England. Keegan had already voiced concerns about the diminishing pool of players he had to select from. Now it appeared the number of eligible, competent, and trusted English managers had disappeared completely.

Enter Sven-Goran Eriksson

After winning his first match in charge when Spain were beaten at Villa Park, he won the next three qualifying games before they arrived in Munich for the big showdown.

England arrived in Munich six points behind Germany with a game in hand. The Germans just had a home match against Finland to look forward to after this one. Victory would confirm their qualification from the group as winners, a draw would mean they only needed a point against the Finns. They had lost just one of their previous sixty qualifying matches, back in 1985, and were unbeaten in the Olympic Stadium in Munich since 1973. Germany were so confident of success they had already announced friendly matches for the same dates of the playoffs.

England were a far different prospect from the side which limped off the Wembley pitch in the previous October looking like a drowned rat. Eriksson had installed Steven Gerrard in midfield alongside the established Manchester United pair of David Beckham and Paul Scholes. Keegan had handed Gerrard his first cap as a sub against Germany in the Charleroi match, but by now he was emerging as one of the finest midfielders in Europe. Eriksson had solved the left-midfield problem which haunted Keegan, by bringing back Nicky Barmby who was now enjoying life in Gerard Houllier’s Liverpool team. He had previously played under both Venables and Hoddle. Liverpool contributed four players to this team four months after lifting three cups, League Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup. Emile Heskey completed the quartet.

Heskey’s partnership upfront with Michael Owen was a continuation from their U21 days and the two knew each other’s game very well. Jamie Carragher and Robbie Fowler were on the bench too.

In defence Eriksson now was able to call upon exciting young talents such as Rio Ferdinand and Ashely Cole. Ferdinand was at Leeds United and rated as one of the best young prospects around. Cole was at Arsenal, already enjoying success under Arsene Wenger. He was playing alongside his teammates, David Seaman and Sol Campbell. Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United contributed 13 of the 18-man squad.

Germany were managed by former World Cup favourite, Rudi Voller. They had been in transition during Euro 2000 and were largely recognised as possibly the worst Germany team since before the War. They were captained by Bayern Munich goalkeeper, Oliver Kahn. It could be argued a strong Bayern team means a strong Germany. However, despite Bayern winning the Champions League just four months earlier they only included three German-born players in their starting eleven. Consequently, there were only three Bayern players in this starting line-up too. In midfield, they had Michael Ballack who was beginning to earn plaudits as an attacking player at Leverkusen. He was alongside Hamann who was looking to do the double over the country which provided his employment.

Upfront they had another Leverkusen player, Oliver Neuville who’d plumped for Germany despite being born in Switzerland. He was partnered by Carsten Jancker, quite comfortably the worst German striker I have ever seen. Jancker was a big, burly immobile centre-forward. Think Peter Withe, a typical English ‘big number 9’. They played with two wing-backs and three at the back, Nowotny, Worns and Linke.

Wurst German team

I was convinced we were witnessing a crisis in German football. Ok, the Champions League was with Bayern but that was a side heavily stocked with foreign talent. If the Premier League was struggling under the weight of non-English qualified cast-list then Germany was beginning to mimic this. The Euro 2000 side was easily the worst I’d seen from that nation in any international competition. Yet here they were, still with that famous German efficiency having dropped just two points in the campaign thus far.

I wasn’t born when England won in 1966, so for me, I’d sat through the anguish of penalty shootout defeats in 1990 and 1996. I’d watched them relentlessly find their way to World Cup Finals in 1982, 1986 and 1990. But cracks were starting to show in 1998 and most definitely two years later.

This was an exciting England team and Eriksson was beginning to court the country into believing he was the messiah. Surely we would be able to overrun them, wouldn’t we? But then this was Germany. This was Munich and this was World Cup qualifying.

The two sides took to the pitch in front of 63,000 spectators, fiercely partisan. Remember Germany had never lost a World Cup qualifying match on home soil. It would be a fascinating encounter.

Kick-off

The game had hardly settled down when a ball into the England box from the left saw Neuville rise highest to head down and there was the much-maligned Jancker to stab the ball past the advancing Seaman. 0-1

Would you credit it? They’d hardly mustered a chance, yet the clogger up front had put them ahead. Surely this wasn’t going to go the way of every other England/Germany game I’d seen?

England weren’t put off their stride by the early setback. They soon had a free-kick down near the Germany bye-line on the left. Beckham took it right-footed towards Campbell at the far post. A German head got to it first, but the loose ball fell to Gerrard. He hooked it back towards his goal to where Neville was lurking outside the area. Neville cushioned a lovely header back into the box and inexplicably the German defence pushed out en masse. Nicky Barmby had beaten the offside trap and got to the header first as Kahn came out with fists flying. His header dropped nicely for Michael Owen and he volleyed it into the net for an immediate reply. 1-1.

What a reply. You would’ve thought Germany would protect their lead longer than six minutes but England were back in it. The rest of the first half became very encouraging for England as they came forward and kept knocking on the German door.

As the break beckoned, England had another free-kick in the German half wide on the right. Beckham took it but couldn’t beat the first man. The ball came back to him for another go and this time he curled in a left-foot cross which Ferdinand was up first to meet. As he was about to head it, Ferdinand heard a call from behind him. He nodded it back and there was Gerrard in space. The Liverpool midfielder chested the ball down and then fired it through the crowd of players past Kahn’s outstretched right hand, and into the goal. 2-1.

It was his first goal for his country and came right on half-time. It was a wonderful moment to take into the break. What would the Germans offer in the second half?

Voller shuffled his pack at the break and dispensed with the three at the back. Worns was taken off and replaced by Gerald Asamoah of Schalke to move into midfield.

England appeared from the tunnel confident and with a bit of a swagger about their manner.

It looked as if the next goal was going to be crucial. Would the fightback begin from Germany straight away? No, was the emphatic answer as Beckham again on the right looked to cross with his right then turned back to curl a left-foot ball into the area. Heskey was alive to the situation as Nowotny looked lost. He headed it down and there was Owen again to volley it home as he had done with the first goal. Kahn got a hand to it but could do nothing to stop its journey into the net. 3-1.

The match was live on the BBC and John Motson commentating was beginning to get rather excited. Of course, he’d witnessed and commentated on many of the clashes between the two nations down the years.

Twenty minutes later Gerrard nicked the ball off Ballack just inside the German half on the right. He played a lovely through ball for Owen to run onto. With the Germans pushing up he was free to run at them, and of course, back then there were few in world football as quick as Owen. As he reached the area he looked up, waited for Kahn to commit himself and then fired the ball high into the net. Kahn was expecting a shot on the ground, but Owen was wise to that. 4-1.

Cue John Motson

“Oh, this is getting better, and better and better. Pinch yourself please.”

It was the hat-trick for Owen and England were now rampant. Whereas Germany looked every inch the side I’d hoped they would be. Owen became the first Englishman to score a hat-trick against Germany since the most famous hat-trick hero of them all, Geoff Hurst.

With a quarter of an hour still to go England were winning everything in midfield. Scholes was first to a loose ball and he found Beckham to his right. The England captain knew the drill and threaded a ball forward to a space he knew Scholes would be running into. England were again on the attack and Scholes waited for Heskey to make a forward run to his left. He found him unmarked and Heskey was through on goal with just the keeper to beat. He moved the ball from left foot to right and then slotted it home under the hapless Kahn.

Motson was, by this time, apoplectic;

“Emile Heskey. Could it be five? Yes, it is! Listen to this. Germany 1, England 5”

The whole country was beside itself. Germany’s first defeat in World Cup qualifying at home, ever. Their first defeat in Munich since 1973. England’s finest away performance many could remember. They were rampant, they were clinical. The golden generation had arrived.

What the scoreline did to the group was now put Germany’s hopes of automatic qualification in doubt as England’s goal difference was superior. England had a visit from Albania to Newcastle next and then Greece at Old Trafford. Win both and they’d qualified, regardless of what Germany could do against Finland in Gelsenkirchen.

England did beat Albania to set up a dramatic final day in the group. Germany were held to a goalless draw by Finland. But in Manchester England were 1-2 down going into time added on, before David Beckham pulled a particular piece of magic out of the hat to equalise with virtually the last kick of the game.

England won the group on goal difference. Germany had to meet Ukraine in the playoffs. They won that and made it all the way to the World Cup Final in Japan. England, one of the fancied sides, unfortunately, met winners Brazil in the Quarter-Finals and lost after being a goal in front.

Golden Generation

For this generation, it wasn’t to be. Yet two years later in the Euros Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney emerged on the world stage, only to find another penalty shootout became their downfall at the hands of Portugal.

This England team was good enough to win a competition. Whether Eriksson was good enough to guide them there is another matter. Had they had a bit more ambition in their final group game in Japan they may have avoided Brazil throughout the knockout stages and been in the Final with them. Then who knows what might’ve happened.

It was typical Germany, though. They still managed to squeeze out the wins to make another Final, despite being a poor side. Ballack got over his mauling at the hands of Gerrard and emerged a legend with his Semi-Final performance after a booking meant he’d miss the Final.

So after all this, you could argue the result in Munich mattered not a jot. England would have to wait another 17 years before they found a side which could reach the last four of a World Cup. But no matter what happened, no matter how tough it got in the years after this. No one can take away the memory of Germany 1, England 5.

1st September 2001, Olympic Stadium, Munich. 63,000

GERMANY   (1)   1   (Jancker 6)

ENGLAND   (2)   5   (Owen 12, 48, 66, Gerrard 45 + 4, Heskey 74)

GERMANY: Kahn; Rehmer, Worns (Asamoah), Linke, Nowotny, Bohme; Ballack (Klose), Hamann, Deisler; Neuville (Kehl), Jancker

ENGLAND: Seaman; Neville G, Campbell, Ferdinand, Cole A; Beckham, Gerrard (Hargreaves), Scholes (Carragher), Barmby (McManaman); Owen, Heskey