By Graham Ruthven
On September 1 2001, tucked away in a corner of Munich's Olympic Stadium, the small contingent of England supporters celebrated a famous 5-1 win over Germany. The home fans seemed unconcerned, though. Instead they sang, "We're going to the World Cup without Holland."
Germany's biggest rivals, the Netherlands, were simultaneously losing to the Republic of Ireland, ending their chances of reaching the 2002 World Cup. German fans embraced and celebrated with each other in the stands, while their team was being humiliated on the field. A German would probably laugh at the fact that DVDs of the lopsided game are still sold in England.
Now England faces Germany once again, with Joachim Low's side visiting Wembley to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the English Football Association with a friendly.
The English press would have you believe that this rivalry is one of world soccer's biggest and fiercest, but the truth deviates greatly from that impression. It is a distinctly one-sided rivalry.
English competition with Germany is rooted in the two World Wars. The phrase "Two World Wars and One World Cup" was printed on T-shirts around the same time the following joke was circulated about the 2010 World Cup being like WWII: "The French surrender early, the US turn up late, and we're left to deal with the bloody Germans."
However, is the animosity mutual? Does the competition, which extends all the way across British society, from the motor industry to beer brands, mean as much to Germany?
"A lot of German people are not even aware there's an England v. Germany rivalry," says Raphael Honigstein, a German soccer writer based in London. "It is difficult to generalize a population of 80 million people, but a lot of German people would much rather see England win the World Cup than Italy or the Dutch or even Spain. It is a bit like the rivalry between the Scottish and the English. The Scots always seem to be against the English, but the English don't seem to really care, probably because they usually win."
Though Germany might see Holland and Spain as its two biggest rivals, its fans know how to rile up the English. After winning Euro 96 on English soil, the German supporters adopted "Three Lions" -- a rousing English soccer song -- as an anthem of their own. The chorus, "football's coming home," was particularly galling for England as Berti Vogt's team returned to Germany with the European Championship trophy.
Harold Wilson, a former British Labour politician, blamed a failed election campaign in 1970 on England's defeat to West Germany in the World Cup in Mexico earlier that year. Kevin Keegan resigned as England manager in the Wembley restroom following a loss to Germany. Failure at the hands of the Germans is viewed as one of the biggest indignations in English sport, a strangely warped perception considering how Germany has dominated the rivalry for almost 50 years.
Psychoanalysis of national character is murky business, but England has become something of a caricature when it comes to soccer. Its triumph at the 1966 World Cup, beating West Germany 4-2 in the final, is still fresh in the national psyche.
English identity is entrenched in 1966. It has become a symbol of the "British Bulldog" spirit and is often voted as the country's greatest moment of sporting success, but the outcome of that game actually sparked German soccer into life.
By the 1970s and 80s, Germany had modernized soccer, bringing in Eastern European and Scandinavian coaches with new ideas and methods. It wasn't too long before the country looked down on English soccer as a second-class version of itself. While Germany has made it to 11 major tournament finals, winning five of those, the furthest England has gone is to the semi-finals in the 1990 World Cup and the 1996 European Championships. Who knocked them out on both occasions? Germany.
The England-Germany rivalry is soccer's grand illusion. In fact, Germany retains a respect for English soccer, admiring and copying many aspects of its culture, and in most cases, bettering them.
Germany's 4-1 win over England at the 2010 World Cup forced many within the English game to accept that they had been left behind by the resurgent German Bundesliga and the national team it has produced.
English arrogance has eased since that humiliation in South Africa. The narrative has come full circle, as English soccer figures ask themselves how they can copy the German model.
A national broadcaster is currently producing a documentary on how the 5-1 defeat in Munich in 2001 forced a change in German soccer. England still likes to think it has played some part in Germany's recent success, conforming to the mantra that soccer was a gift given to the world by England.
Julian Draxler was asked ahead of Tuesday's game whether he thought England could be considered in the same bracket as Germany. Before he could gather himself to give a diplomatic answer he chuckled derisively. That reflex response was revealing.
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Graham Ruthven is a soccer writer based in the UK. He has written for the New York Times, ESPN, MSN Sport and Scottish TV, among others. Follow him @grahamruthven.