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‘There is no point fearing the past’: England focused on writing history, not being burdened by old scars

·5-min read
‘There is no point fearing the past’: England focused on writing history, not being burdened by old scars
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

On Wednesday night, the England squad were split about their last-16 opponents. That wasn’t as regards who they wanted to play, though, but who they wanted to watch.

Like everyone else, they were manically switching between France-Portugal and Hungary-Germany.

“We were all watching together,” Marcus Rashford reveals. “We were watching the Portugal game and then some lads were watching the Germany game as well.

“It was all a little bit crazy, people just shouting over who scored and that. It’s nice. It’s a moment for the team to sit down and relax because, when the games are on, you are training hard every day and you very rarely get time to come away from it and just be normal people.”

Something else becomes apparent as Rashford speaks, though. There is a sense of relaxation about playing Germany. That isn’t to say they aren’t respected, but there’s no trepidation about it in the way England sides have felt in the past, or most of the country still thinks.

That is natural. A lot of these lads weren’t born for 1990 or even 1996. They don’t have the same associations. They don’t have the same psychological scars. Rashford admitted the only tournament game he thinks of as regards Germany is the 2010 “ghost goal” game, when Frank Lampard’s shot was adjudged not to have crossed the line.

“If we had VAR then it would have stood,” he laughs, before chuckling about the mention of prior meetings. “Some of the players weren’t even born yet.”

Rather than obsessing about history with Germany, these players just want to make history with a win over Germany. That is what drives them. Rashford - not for the first time - gave a message that a lot of the country would do well to listen to.

“There is no point fearing the past. You can't go back and change it. What we can change is the result of the next game and put ourselves in the best possible position to win the game.

“We are being put in a position where we are blessed to be part of that history. Our main focus is to win the game, but if we do it gets put in history. That's how great teams are remembered for many, many years.

One of the big questions going into the game is whether England can sufficiently switch from the fairly bloodless nature of the group stage to the sudden death of a knock-out against one of the biggest names in international football history. Rashford said that Gareth Southgate’s planning for this has gone on a lot longer than just this tournament.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

“Over the last two years we've improved massively against the bigger teams, we've been getting better results. Whereas, before that, we were sometimes playing alright, but most of the game they were dominating, it was difficult for us to get goalscoring opportunities, and the game would usually be one or two-nil to them, but they'd be in control of the game.

“That was one of the things Gareth wanted to change. It was around Nations League time [in 2019], we wanted to start pushing ourselves and trying to beat these big nations, and gradually we started to do it a few more times, sometimes drawing, but games where it's very fine margins, and losing a lot less. We've definitely progressed in those terms, but like I said, I'm just looking forward to the next game, and we take it one game at a time, and we give our all in this game against Germany.”

Rashford did stress they don’t want to get too emotional.

“Anyone who is a fan of football, you get built up for these types of games and rightly so. In camp, it is different because as a player you have to be focused. If you go on the pitch with all that build-up, we could end up with eight men on the pitch. So, yeah, we’re just concentrated. We are going to have a proper training week and hopefully be at our best come the game.

“I feel like we have to bring the best version of us and take that to the game. We want to win the 'England Way' – show some good football, work hard for each other and score and create goals.

“When we have been at our best it is when we have been scoring goals and keeping clean sheets. I know it sounds basic – don't concede and score goals – but that is what we are good at.”

As regards what these two specific teams are historically good - or bad - at, penalties of course came up.

Now England manager, Southgate missed a crucial penalty against Germany at Euro 96 (Getty Images)
Now England manager, Southgate missed a crucial penalty against Germany at Euro 96 (Getty Images)

Southgate told the players about his own experience missing that 1996 penalty against Germany a few years ago, advising them on what he’d learned and what he’d done differently. There’s been nothing since, though, and the message is to just concentrate on themselves. Rashford is of course more than willing to hit one.

Again, there’s no complex about missing one against Germany.

“Yeah, of course. It's a chance to score a penalty and a chance for the team to go through to the next round of the competition. At England, it has always been good in terms of penalties. We always work in the right way, which is the right way for each individual, as everybody deals with those pressure situations differently.

“It [practice] is very much individualised – when you want to practice, you can practice. For a lot of the players that is the best way to do it because they can concentrate on their own – even if it is not with a keeper. Sometimes they just want to do it on their own and take a good penalty.”

The plan is for it not to get that far.

“For us, Germany are a top, top team and have showed that for years but we can make the play against them, we can give them a good game.”

After watching the games the other night, Ed Sheeran arrived to give England a private concert. He of course played a few bars of 'Three Lions'. A new twist on an old song. England are confident it can be the same on Tuesday.

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