England have not done this since 30 July, 1966. This remains the golden date in the country’s football calendar, one that has never come close to being equalled in the subsequent 55 agonising years.
Germany were beaten by England at the knockout stage of a major tournament for the first time since that World Cup final as Gareth Southgate’s side ran out deserved 2-0 winners at a joyous, nervy, celebratory Wembley.
And now the door has been pushed open a little further to give England the chance to do something else they have not done since 1966 – reach the final of a major tournament.
Germany, who have beaten England so often since that day in 1966, were overcome as Southgate earned vindication for both his tactics and his faith in captain Harry Kane, who rescued another largely average display with a moment of glorious release and relief when he headed home the second goal to open his account in Euro 2020.
And to add to the landmarks, this was the first time England have won a match (as opposed to progressing on penalties) at the knockout stage of any European Championships. A grim statistic best erased.
England’s win, on a night when Wembley sounded full to capacity rather than limited to a crowd of 40,000, sends them to Rome on Saturday night for a quarter-final against Ukraine.
It’s a hazardous but winnable tie, and the same applies to a potential semi-final against either Denmark or the Czech Republic.
England have yet to truly sparkle in Euro 2020 but they are experts in getting the job done and have yet to concede a goal in the tournament, helped by the outstanding form of goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, who saved crucially from Timo Werner and Kai Havertz at vital times in a tense encounter.
The scenes of celebration at the final whistle were an outpouring of elation at a victory of great significance for Southgate and England.
The memory bank was trawled for England’s important knockout wins since the 4-2 win over West Germany in 1966. It is hardly a lengthy list, testimony to England’s under-achievement at elite tournament level.
Will this win over Germany prove to be one of the biggest since 1966? Only if they go on to reach the final. Anything else must be taken as a disappointment given where they stand now.
This was a defining moment in his time as England manager, when he knew defeat would raise questions about whether he and his team could win the big games but victory could provide a platform for lift-off.
It was not just the biggest win of his England managerial career given the opposition, the pressure and the stage, it also gives him something else to talk about when Germany is mentioned rather than his penalty miss in the semi-final shootout at Euro 96.
Southgate knew the risks involved when he reverted to a three-man central defensive system and kept the people’s favourites Jack Grealish and Phil Foden on the bench, preferring Arsenal’s excellent 19-year-old Bukayo Saka on this occasion.
Listen to Southgate’s post-match words and you can hear why he deserves praise for having the courage of his convictions, ignoring the noise and clamour for the popular choices, believing pragmatism would win the day and that creative forces like Grealish were better utilised coming off the bench.
“You know that if you change the shape and pick certain personnel instead of others and it goes wrong, you’re dead,” said Southgate.
England are very much alive as, not without anxious moments and spells of suffering, they came through with Raheem Sterling continuing an outstanding Euro 2020 with his third goal of the tournament to open the scoring before Kane applied the finishing touch.
And, as Southgate suggested, Grealish was the game-changer when he came on. Aston Villa’s captain, who has assumed cult status among England’s fans, delivered with his involvement in the build-up for Sterling’s goal then providing a perfect cross for Kane to head past Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.
Once the deal was sealed after Kane’s second, Wembley was in party mood as those thousands of fans who had been starved of seeing England live during lockdown let it all out in a thunderous cacophony of noise.
They were rewarded with this victory, the hopes of further progress and a lap of appreciation from England’s victorious players.
Amid the euphoria must come reality.
On the other side of the draw lurk teams such as Belgium, Italy and Spain, as well as Switzerland, the shock conquerors of World Cup holders France in the last 16.
England will still need to move up another gear, not only to get through their own half of this draw but to seriously threaten these very impressive sides they may face as Euro 2020 moves into its closing phase.
The win over Germany will be nothing more than a satisfactory note on the CV of all involved unless England build on it, a message Southgate wasted no time in delivering to his players.
“I said to the players straight away that I am the party pooper because if we don’t capitalise on that then it doesn’t count for anything.”
The bottom line, however, is that tournament football is not necessarily about sparkling, it is about winning, and so far England could have done no more to reach the last eight.
This mission was accomplished – now they must do it again in Rome on Saturday.