England struck twice late on to end a 55-year wait for a knockout tie victory over Germany amid scenes of huge tension and elation at Wembley to reach the Euro 2020 quarter-finals.
Gareth Southgate’s side battled hard to earn the statement victory that has so often eluded England, and it was their talisman of this tournament, Raheem Sterling, who made the decisive breakthrough.
Sterling, who scored the winners against Croatia and the Czech Republic in the group stage, steered in Luke Shaw’s cross after 75 minutes to send England’s fans, with more than 40,000 inside Wembley, into wild celebrations.
The win was secured with another moment of significance four minutes from time when captain Harry Kane, who had once again struggled to influence the game, headed in from substitute Jack Grealish’s perfect delivery for his first goal of Euro 2020.
England were again thankful for the brilliance of Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, who has yet to concede a goal in the tournament and saved crucially from Timo Werner and Kai Havertz in each half, while Thomas Muller missed a glorious chance to equalise before Kane struck.
England now face Ukraine in the quarter-finals in Rome on Saturday after they scored a last-minute winner in extra time to beat Sweden. It will be live on BBC One and BBC iPlayer.
Southgate’s team selection raised eyebrows when he decided to leave the creative talents of Grealish and Phil Foden on the bench and showed huge faith in Arsenal teenager Bukayo Saka by starting him after his fine performance against the Czechs.
Saka was excellent, the early spark when England struggled, while Grealish added the crucial X factor when he came off the bench to finally help break Germany down.
The scenes at the final whistle demonstrated just how important this win is for Southgate and England, digging deep and surviving periods of struggle to overcome old rivals who have so often got the better of them.
And this may just rank as the biggest and most important victory of Southgate’s time in charge.
The last 16 was round that carried so much jeopardy for England when the draw was made, with the knowledge that topping their group would likely mean a meeting with the ever-dangerous Germany, World Cup holders France or reigning European champions Portugal.
While Group F minnows Hungary very nearly caused a huge upset, in the end it was Germany who confronted them and Southgate, who must tired of seeing replays of his penalty miss against them in the Euro 96 semi-final, now has a happy memory to cherish from this fixture, not to mention a potentially favourable route forward in this tournament.
England will feel confident but not complacent against Ukraine, and the shock exit of France to Switzerland shows no-one can be taken lightly.
But this win, against these opponents, will be of huge psychological value as England go forward.
In the other match today, Artem Dovbyk scored in added time in extra time as Ukraine edged out 10-man Sweden 2-1 at Hampden to set up the quarter-final clash with England.
Oleksandr Zinchenko smashed Ukraine in front with a powerful drive but a deflected shot from Emil Forsberg levelled matters before half-time.
Sweden lost Marcus Danielson to a red card in extra time after a VAR check.
And, with penalties looming, Dovbyk – one of 12 substitutes used – headed a dramatic winner from close range.
Ukraine had crept through from the group phase with three points and a negative goal difference, while Sweden topped their section with seven points, ahead of Spain.
However, the match in Glasgow was an even contest throughout, with both sides out on their feet by the final whistle.
With so many changes in personnel and a sending off, there was no rhythm or shape in extra time.
The Swedes were twice temporarily down to nine men after head knocks and Ukraine replacement Artem Besedin lasted just 10 minutes before he was on the receiving end of Danielson’s high challenge.
The Sweden defender, who got his foot to a dropping ball before catching his opponent, was initially booked but referee Daniele Orsato upgraded to red after reviewing the incident on the pitch-side monitor. (BBC)