2000 England: Germany
In the second match against Germany of the year, England were confident of repeating their win in the group stages of Euro 2000 only four months earlier. The occasion was made all the more poignant by the impending demolition of the iconic Wembley Stadium; this was to be the last match before the crews moved in.
Build Up to BattleBoth teams had suffered disappointment at Euro 2000, despite beating Germany for the first time in a competitive match since the World Cup final in 1966, England had gone out at the first hurdle, as had a disjointed German side. Germany had rung the changes though, with Rudi Völler replacing Erich Ribbeck as the national coach.
England stayed with reluctant ‘people’s choice’ Kevin Keegan, who had taken a lot of criticism for tactical naiveté with formations and controversial team selections. The omens weren’t exactly good when the team sheet revealed that Keegan had picked Gareth Southgate, a defender in his prime, in the holding midfielder position, despite having Paul Ince and Dennis Wise in the squad.
Disaster in the First Quarter of an HourThe match was played in teeming rain, and the opening exchanges were even, Michael Owen getting into the area and nearly flicking the ball on to an unmarked David Beckham, and Martin Keown only just diverting a Michael Ballack cross to deny Oliver Bierhoff a free header. But the killer blow came in the 14th minute, when Paul Scholes fouled Ballack 30 yards away from goal.
While England were busy arranging their wall, Liverpool’s Dietmar Hamann placed the ball and immediately fired it in. The ball bounced just in front of David Seaman, one of the worst things for a keeper to deal with, and while he managed to get a hand to it, he couldn’t keep the ball out; 1-0 to Germany.
That lead gave Germany the confidence to begin to dominate the match, and came close again with Seaman having to dive to the right to keep out a fierce drive from Carsten Ramelow. England only threatened twice in the rest of the first half, the best being a diving header by Tony Adams from a David Beckham free kick two minutes before half time, which veteran keeper Oliver Kahn just managed to claim at full length.
Second Half Fight BackThe second half was a lot better from England, Keegan sacrificing full-back Gary Neville for the invention and speed of Kieron Dyer, and it began to work, although Seaman still had to be at his best with a one-handed save from Mehmet Scholl, with Bierhoff waiting to pounce on the loose ball.
Beckham forced an acrobatic tip over from Kahn, and a trademark long ball to Owen in space promised much, but Owen couldn’t control the ball, it skidded away from under his foot. A neat move on the left saw Nick Barmby’s cross agonisingly passing between Scholes and Graham Le Saux as they rushed unmarked into the area, then Gareth Barry, on for Le Saux, fed Beckham who shot narrowly wide.
But the ball wouldn’t go in for England, and as the match drew to a close it was Germany who threatened on the break, with Nowotny inexplicably handling Ballack’s chip to the far post instead of scoring.
Keegan Caves InIt was the first time that England had ever lost the opening match of a World Cup qualifying campaign, and for it to happen on home soil, against the Germans, in the last match to ever be played at the fortress of English football, was too much for Keegan, who walked straight to the FA officials and told them he was resigning.
England’s road to the 2002 World Cup got rockier with a scoreless draw against Finland in Helsinki a month later, under caretaker manager Howard Wilkinson, and nothing short of a miracle, particularly in the return against Germany in 2001, would see England qualify.