Wembley atmosphere has to make England favourites for Euro 2020 - as long as they beat Ukraine

Harry Kane
(Image credit: PA Images)

The match had finished fully 20 minutes earlier, when a man stood in front of the Wembley press box on Tuesday night, and loudly addressed the assembled media.

"I'll give you the headline," he declared confidently, as journalists typed away to complete their match reports. "England 2 Germany 0. Close your laptops and let's all get off!"

And with that, the fan left the stadium, wearing a broad smile on his face. He'd just witnessed England's greatest victory at the new Wembley, amid potentially the greatest atmosphere at the new Wembley.

There were only 41,973 people inside the stadium for the match against Germany, less than half of Wembley's 90,000 capacity. But you would never have known it, not by looking around the stadium, and certainly not by the noise.

Through a combination of a huge tournament fixture against England's fiercest rivals, and the return of a big crowd to a UK football match after more than a year's absence, Wembley descended into a fervour on Tuesday.

Wembley

(Image credit: PA Images)

From hours before kick-off, there was a party atmosphere outside the stadium. Some might have been going to their first game since March 2020, and they were determined to make the most of it. Fans drank and sang together outside Wembley, in a way they haven't been able to do for so long.

Inside the stadium, it felt like being transported to childhood, to a game that some of us were old enough to watch on television back in 1996, wondering what it would have been like to be there. A vibrant Wembley, for a crucial Euros match against Germany, heartily singing along to Three Lions as it played over the stadium PA system.

Anyone older than about 30 remembers where they were that night in 1996. We all have our own story. I was 12, stuck at an inconveniently scheduled 20-over cricket match as the semi final against Germany started. Having avidly watched the rest of the tournament, our team chose to bat second so that most of us could watch the first half on TV in the pavilion, before heading home as quickly as possible, to watch the match's heartbreaking conclusion.

To be inside the stadium 25 years later, it almost felt quite emotional. This was what it must have felt like to be there against Germany at Euro 96, except this time England won.

Wembley

(Image credit: PA Images)

Understandably, things felt different for the group stage. The atmosphere for the Scotland game was undoubtedly impressive, but it was very visible that the stadium was only a quarter full, and the visiting supporters were making almost as much noise as the home fans. The Germany game was a whole other level.

Only around 2,000 flag-waving Germany fans were present, many of them UK based because of the current travel restrictions. They were completely drowned out by 40,000 English supporters, pumped up for one of the biggest games in recent memory on home soil.

Undoubtedly, it was a huge advantage for England. Every tackle, every dart forward was roared on. Gareth Southgate's men played at a much higher tempo than Germany for much of the game, and at least some of that was surely down to the way they were being urged on by the crowd.

That tempo was just too much for Germany at times, as England swarmed around them. For players like Mats Hummels, Toni Kroos and Thomas Muller, inevitably slowing down in their advancing years, it was not the type of game they wanted to play.

When fan favourite Jack Grealish came on with 20 minutes to go, he was greeted by a cheer so loud that it would surely have made anyone feel invincible. It made a difference - within minutes he'd helped England to seize the moment, playing a role in Raheem Sterling's goal, greeted by a cacophony of noise and a maelstrom of limbs.

Raheem Sterling

(Image credit: PA Images)

In that moment, your eyes were drawn away from the celebrating players, and towards the crowd, going absolutely crazy, right the way around the stadium. There is no more beautiful sight in football.

This was the biggest display of limbs on English soil for years and years, even before the pandemic, but made more fervent by the pandemic, and everything that everyone has been through. The misery, the pain, the separation.

Eleven minutes later, when Harry Kane added a second, the maelstrom happened again. England had beaten Germany, and in that moment, everyone knew it.

As soon as the final whistle blew, Three Lions began to play over the stadium speakers. David Baddiel and Frank Skinner were at Wembley again to hear it, 25 years on. Fans sang along to Sweet Caroline at the top of their voices too, lingering inside the stadium for as long as possible to celebrate and savour the moment, before eventually heading home.

Had it not been for coronavirus restrictions in Ireland, Tuesday's match had originally been supposed to take place at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. We'll never know exactly how the match would have gone had it been played there, but it wouldn't have been anything like that.

Stadio Olimpico

(Image credit: PA Images)

It won't be anything like that in Rome on Saturday either, with travel still highly restricted. England must find a way to beat Ukraine in their only match on neutral territory in this tournament, without the volume of noise that cheered them on against Germany.

If they can do that, it would be hard to back against them winning Euro 2020. For anyone who comes to Wembley to play England in that sort of atmosphere - particularly considering capacity will rise again to 60,000 for the semi finals and final - they're facing an uphill battle.

It wouldn't be easy for Gareth Southgate's side, of course not. Denmark are spurred on by the awful events of their match against Finland, while Italy have looked largely impressive, and you could make an argument that, on paper, Belgium might still be the best team at the tournament. Providing he's fully fit, Kevin De Bruyne may be the finest player in world football right now.

But none of the other seven remaining teams will have home advantage. If they can get to the semi finals, England will.

Could this finally be the year? There are still many obstacles to overcome, but with the sort of support they got against Germany, it really is possible.

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