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Thursday, September 1, 2011
Five-star England hammer Germany

Jon Carter

In 2001, before the distraction of the transfer window arrived, there was some important football to played on September 1 and on the international stage England completed one of their finest ever results on this day - a 5-1 hammering of the old enemy Germany at the Olympiastadion in Munich. In October 2000, in the last ever match at the original Wembley stadium, Germany overcame England 1-0 thanks to a Dietmar Hamman strike. The result, accompanied by such headlines as 'Wembley's sad farewell' had seen the end of Kevin Keegan as manager of the Three Lions, with his place eventually taken by Swedish boss Sven Goran Eriksson for the 2002 World Cup qualifiers. As the first foreign manager to take over the prestigious job, Eriksson was under real pressure to perform and lead an England side to Korea/Japan, although memories of their failure to qualify for USA '94 were still fresh in their minds. With the defeat to Germany and a 0-0 draw away at Finland (under the management of caretaker Howard Wilkinson) already behind him, Eriksson's mission began well. Despite going down 1-0 to an Aki Riihilahti goal in the return game against Finland, Michael Owen and David Beckham rescued all three points in Eriksson's debut at the helm and a 3-1 win over Albania and 2-0 win in Greece kept the Three Lions well on course for qualification. Going into the vital game in Germany, England were six points behind their old rivals with a game in hand. But, despite the fact that the side had been unable to beat Germany on their home turf for 25 years previous, Eriksson had seemed a model of confidence ahead of the game, insisting that ''records are there to be broken.'' Germany had lost just one of their previous sixty qualification games (ahead of the 1986 FIFA World Cup) and were unbeaten at the Olympiastadion stadium since 1973. The German federation had also taken the unusual step of organising a couple of friendly fixtures on the date of the play-offs, so confident were they that qualification would be assured automatically. And the message of confidence was apparent among the players as well. Carsten Jancker, a victim of criticism from the ever balanced English media, was unequivocal in his determination, maintaining: "We are going to win"; while German legend Franz Beckenbauer was slightly more restrained when he said: "We expect to win". Indeed, as the instantly recognisable Pierluigi Collina blew his whistle to begin the action, the 6,000 England fans amongst a crowd of 63,000 would certainly have been forgiven for holding their breath; it was a daunting task. And, just six minutes in, and it looked like hopes of overhauling the Germans would be crushed as a neat passing move between Michael Ballack and Oliver Neuville allowed Carsten Jancker to nip in ahead of the onrushing David Seaman and open the scoring. Seaman had been called ''slow'' and ''over the hill'' by the German media and his opening contribution did little to silence the doubters. But this would not be another England collapse. Instead, they were level as another six minutes passed. As Owen was fouled on the left hand side of the area, Beckham's free-kick was too long and hammered high back towards Gary Neville. The United defender headed back into the area as the Germans advanced and, as Nick Barmby got ahead of Oliver Kahn, Owen was there to volley home into an empty net. Seaman and Kahn redeemed themselves somewhat, but Sebastien Deisler's horror miss from eight yards out turned the game and, before the half-time break, Steven Gerrard's hammer blow sent the Germans reeling. As Beckham's cross was headed back by Rio Ferdinand, Gerrard controlled the ball with his chest before unleashing an unstoppable 30-yard shot into the bottom corner. England had been on the other end of a goal just before half-time in France '98 as Javier Zanetti's strike ensured that Argentina would take control of the momentum and they lost on penalties. Now the boot was on the other foot and, after the break, the Three Lions dominated. It took just three more minutes for it to become 3-1. Another Beckham cross, followed by a knock-down from Emile Heskey this time, and Owen's volley from 12 yards crushed the Germans' already fragile confidence as it slipped through Kahn at the near post. Ballack then missed a great chance to get his side back into the game and, when Gerrard intercepted a pass to thread a through-ball to Owen, few expected him to miss. He didn't. And as the ball rippled the top of the net for the fourth, Owen became the first England player to hit a hat-trick against Germany since Sir Geoff Hurst's World Cup winning treble in 1966. But England weren't done yet and another penetrating Beckham pass found Paul Scholes who squared for Heskey to get himself on the scoresheet and complete the rout, 5-1. Almost immediately, hundreds of German fans streamed out of the Olympic Stadium, disenchanted by a performance that had seen them concede more than a tenth of all the goals they had ever conceded in World Cup qualifiers. After the game, Eriksson was left rubbing his eyes too. "I can't believe that we can beat Germany 5-1 away, it seems like a dream, it's unbelievable,'' he said. ''I said to the players: 'I don't know what to say to you.' I told them before the game, if you play football as you can play we can beat any team, even Germany away. But I can't believe it was 5-1.'' While Beckenbauer paid tribute to England's 'fantasy football' and their star performer Owen. "I have never seen a better England team and I have never seen an England team playing better football. They had pace, aggression, movement and skill. It was fantasy football,'' he said. ''When they scored their third goal they started to play football that would have beaten anyone in the world. Michael Owen was simply unstoppable. Our defenders were slow and they just could not handle his pace, while his finishing was unbelievable.'' Owen's ascension to the peak of his powers was complete, and he would win the Ballon D'Or at the end of 2001. And although everything would never go quite so right as it had that night in Munich, Eriksson's place in English football history was assured. What happened next? England beat Albania in their next game to go level with Germany at the top of the group. However, their last match proved even more exciting as they twice came from behind against Greece to seal a 2-2 draw, with Beckham's last-minute free-kick one of England's most memorable images. England finished top of the group as Germany could only draw against Finland and went to Korea/Japan in high spirits. Germany made the finals as well after beating Ukraine in a play-off but in the main competition England went out to a Ronaldinho free-kick in the quarter-finals, while Germany went on to lose to Brazil in the final.


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