It was shaping up to be a night when Harry Maguire hogged the wrong kind of headlines, when Gareth Southgate endured more pain, when the soul-searching around England and their manager deepened. The team had been promising in the first-half against their old foes but then it all threatened to fall apart.
A grisly Maguire error, a loose pass followed by a rash challenge on Jamal Musiala, presented Ilkay Gündogan with a penalty for 1-0. Further Maguire thrashing then urged Germany to break and how Kai Havertz meted out the punishment with a fizzing shot from distance.
England had blown their openings. Germany had given them a lesson in how to be clinical. And then Southgate and his players ripped up the script. It was Luke Shaw who offered the glimmer of hope when he rammed home from a Reece James cross; Mason Mount who sparked a capacity Wembley crowd into frenzy.
Southgate had introduced him and Bukayo Saka from the bench. And, after the latter had turned and drifted past two Germany players, Mount ran onto his weighted pass to crash a shot past Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Saka was brilliant. And so was Jude Bellingham. The Borussia Dortmund midfielder would win the penalty shortly afterwards from which Harry Kane located the top corner. Despair to joy inside 12 minutes. The late sting, a Nick Pope handling error that coughed up a second goal for Havertz, was in keeping with the chaos.
But it did not stop Southgate from beaming widely when he embraced his opposite number, Hansi Flick, at full-time. Saka had almost nicked it in stoppage-time, drawing a finger-tip save from ter Stegen after a quick break. It would have been too much.
Germany had arrived in a rut, only one win in their previous six games and on the back of the 1-0 home loss to Hungary – the first reverse of Flick’s tenure. They needed something here but it felt as though England’s need was the greater, mainly because of the hysteria that tracks the team’s every step and, especially, the mis-steps.
Southgate stuck mainly with the line-up that had laboured so sorely in the 1-0 defeat against Italy and, when the team was announced for the first time over the PA system at 6.58pm, the name of Maguire was booed. It happened twice more before kick-off. Was it going to be one of those nights, one of those crowds?
England were the more proactive team before the interval; they created chances, which was encouraging, and they created the big one on 25 minutes. It was all about the vision of Phil Foden, who had run with purpose and that easy balance from the first whistle; probing, too, with his passes.
The one he unfurled for Raheem Sterling was a beauty and it was on for England when the forward chopped inside Nico Schlotterbeck to open up the one-on-one with Ter Stegen. The Germany goalkeeper made a vital block.
It was the prompt for an England flurry. Sterling found Foden, who had Kane in the middle only to drag the cross behind him; Kane volleyed past the far post after Germany had half-cleared a corner and Sterling missed a pass to Foden on a promising break. England needed to take greater care with the final action. There were plenty of other examples of them falling short in this regard in the first half.
Southgate’s faith in Pope was an interesting detail. The injured Jordan Pickford remains his No 1 goalkeeper but Pope appears to have pushed ahead of Aaron Ramsdale as the understudy. Pope’s distribution, though, remains a work in progress. There were anxious moments when England went back to him.
Pope was untroubled with his hands in the first half. The closest that Germany came was in stoppage time when Joshua Kimmich fizzed a low shot just wide. Sterling also got away with a shirt pull on Thilo Kehrer inside the area, although the Germany full-back’s fall was theatrical.
Germany’s last line was extremely high and it felt as though there were opportunities for England in behind it. They just needed to be more precise. Sterling finished the first half by taking a Kane pass and, under pressure, shooting at Ter Stegen.
Maguire would hear the fans behind one of the goals sing his name on the half hour. He had settled into his game and it felt as though it could become a good night for him. Then it all went wrong.
Maguire’s first error came when he tried to squeeze a pass out left as the last man and it was too close to Jamal Musiala, who intercepted. When the former England youth international ran at him, performing step-overs in the box, the alarm bells rang. Maguire lunged and simply kicked Musiala; his opponent’s fleet of foot was too much. The only surprise was that VAR had to intervene to suggest the penalty be awarded. Gündogan never looked like missing. “Football’s Coming Home,” chorused the Germany fans. Tee hee.
England, who had lost John Stones to a first-half muscle pull, were scrambled by the concession. Moments earlier, Sterling had curled at Ter Stegen. Now they looked ready to fold. Eric Dier slipped but Timo Werner, a substitute, fluffed the cross. Niklas Süle drilled wide after striding through. Musiala eluded a wild Maguire slide tackle before playing in Werner, who shot wastefully.
The second goal was coming and, when it did, it was a beauty, Kai Havertz shaping a left-footed curler into the far, top corner after a lethal break. England had lost possession high up through – yes, sadly – Maguire.