Maybe only victory by penalty shoot-out would have tasted sweeter for Gareth Southgate. The England manager is too much of a gentleman to indulge in any public schadenfreude but just a small part of him must have felt a tug of satisfaction at a German side meeting their Waterloo at Wembley to his side.
Southgate’s penalty miss against the same opposition at Euro 96 is a life sentence from which he will never be freed he acknowledged before the game. It will always be there – history does not erase itself – but a new page was written in the England-Germany rivalry on Tuesday night.
As he applauded Wembley from the centre of the pitch in the moments after his side strangled, subdued then put Germany to the sword a part of Southgate must have been healed. The ovation he received as he appeared on the big screen maybe represented some sort of quiet closure.
The emotion that poured down from the stands after a match of cloying tension and boundless relief was mirrored in the embraces shared by Southgate with his players and staff.
They will have known in those clinches how much this win meant to him as well as a grateful nation 25 years on.
“I was looking at the big screen and I saw David Seaman up there. For the team-mates that played with me, I can’t change that. That is always going to hurt,” said Southgate. “But what is lovely is that we’ve given people another day to remember and now we’ve got to go and do it in Rome.”
After seven games without a win against the Germans at Wembley, Southgate’s England stopped the rot when it mattered most and rolled on into the Euros quarter-finals.
The masterplan he put together worked to a tee. It was cautious, with a five-man defence and two holding midfielders, but it was crafty too. Set up to contain, England did just that as Germany were unable to launch their wing-backs as they would have wanted.
They were restricted to just one chance in either half but neither Timo Werner – hardly surprisingly – nor Thomas Muller – very surprisingly – could put them away.
Four games in, England are the Albert Steptoe of these Euros. They have still to concede a goal at this tournament.
As a former defender Southgate will be overjoyed at that. If they were clunky at times with the ball again against Germany he will not care too much. Two goals doubled their tally.
They were joining in as Three Lions was belted out around the stadium during the final few minutes.
With their side 2-0 up, the England fans wanted the game to end but in the same breath they didn’t. Moments like these don’t come around too often and the joy of cheering German misses as England’s beaten nemesis desperately chased the lost cause was total. The place was less than half full but even with only 43,000 inside it was rocking.
Southgate paced out the final few minutes inside his technical area, politely sidefooting a plastic glass aside at one point.
The noise in his ears was raucous but must have sounded heavenly. Each defensive header was greeted with a violent roar, each tackle won sounded like a goal.
Then came the final whistle, a double punch of the air and a look upwards towards the grey London skies. Someone, this time, was looking down on him from above.