To compound England's misfortune, the method of seeding for today's European Championship draw in Brussels has decreed that the country has a one in four chance of facing Germany again in the group stage, and if not then in later rounds. There is, seemingly, no escape from Erich Ribbeck's team.
Yet, how many times since 1966 have the coaches and pundits blithely informed us that Germany "are not what they were"? They have already been at it this time, notably Ray Clemence, England's goalkeeping guru, and will continue. Yet the chronology is dismal. Since their World Cup triumph under Alf Ramsey, England have been defeated 10 times in 14 meetings by West Germany and, since 1991, Germany.
"At least," as Terry Butcher, who has faced them three times for England, put it drily, "there won't be any penalties this time." He added, searching for further sources of optimism: "This is an excellent chance to put those two disappointments of 1990 and 1996 into distant memory. England have much more of an incentive in these games than the Germans." That remains to be seen.
Butcher was only 11 when England, as World Champions and with what was believed to be a more talented line-up than the 1966 side, were confronted by West Germany again in the quarter-finals of the 1970 Mexico World Cup at Leon. The dejection of that day still lives with Alan Mullery, one of England's outstanding players in the tournament. "That was the most disappointing game I've ever played in," reflected the then Tottenham wing-half. "To play so well for an hour, and be winning 2-0 against a really good, quality side, and then lose the game 3-2."
It was always believed that Ramsey made a crucial mistake in substituting Bobby Charlton, thereby leaving Beckenbauer, who had been marking him, free to exploit weaknesses in the England rearguard. The elegant Bayern Munich player, at that time deployed as an attacking right-half, scored to make it 2-1. "Uwe Seeler scored a lucky second goal and in extra time they played better than us. They were powerful enough to come back and win 3-2," Mullery said.
It was a day when the Germans inflicted a crushing assault on England's self-esteem. And it was to prove merely a foretaste of what we could expect over the next three decades. Mullery, now a football analyst for BSkyB, suspects this could not be a better time to renew hostilities. "There's a transitional period now in German football," he said. "Even though their club sides are fairly good in Europe, they are not so strong as they have been over the last 20 years. On organisation, they are still fantastic, as we saw in the 1996 European Championship. They always will be; it's the nature of the people. It's their mentality to plan and organise. But a lot of their players have moved on, and some of their better players, like Lothar Matthaus, are past it."
It was the Bayern Munich defender who consoled Chris Waddle after his penalty miss in Turin in 1990. Few England supporters will ever erase the images of that night from the minds: Gazza blubbing as he received the caution that would have denied him a place in the World Cup final, the German free-kick deflected agonisingly over Peter Shilton's head by Paul Parker, Lineker's equaliser.
Would that Kevin Keegan could select from the quality that Bobby Robson possessed then. "It was the best we played in the tournament and for it to go to penalties was very disappointing," recalled Butcher. "Sometimes semi-finals are very scrappy, very negative, but that was a full-blooded contest. We gave it everything to come back into the game from 1-0 down. And we all know what happened then." Waddle and Stuart Pearce will never forget. Nor Beckenbauer, whose team proceeded to defeat Argentina in the Rome final.
Gareth Southgate will probably never entirely obliterate the anguish of his penalty miss at Wembley in 1996, when England did all but secure their place in the European Championship final. Again, the Germans emerged the victors, 6-5 on penalties. "The have an in-built discipline," Butcher said. "They have a game plan which they stick to. Everybody has their function, their job, in the team and they stick to that, while England tend to be more off the cuff, more flamboyant. We like to vary things. We say, `if it doesn't work out this way we'll try something else'. We gamble, whereas the Germans don't."
The man capped 77 times by England, who is now a coach at Dundee United and an analyst for BBC Radio 5 Live, added: "Only this week Borussia Dortmund scraped through against Rangers [in the Uefa Cup] and, of course, in the Champions' League final, Bayern Munich so nearly beat Manchester United, only for Alex Ferguson's team to capitalise on a rare slip of concentration."
The former Ipswich stalwart enjoyed the rare delight of being a member of Robson's team who defeated the West Germans 3-0 in Mexico City, prior to the 1986 World Cup. "There were so many great German players I've played against; Rummenigge, Voller, Klinsmann, Breitner. That quality is missing these days but then you could say the same of England. We're missing the Robsons, the Shiltons, the Linekers of this world, players who have played in World Cups and done well.
"England have got to get their act together by Euro 2000, then there's the big one. England don't do anything easily these days. They have to fight for everything. They've also got Finland, don't forget, and Greece will also be very tricky - they've got some good young players. Albania is never the best place to go to."
But most crucially, England have Germany. Nobody, not even Keegan who spent three years there with Hamburg in the Bundesliga, can honestly relish that prospect.
EURO 2000 DRAW: HOW IT WORKS
l The draw is made in Brussels at 2pm today.
l The 16 teams competing in next year's tournament will be seeded into four pots in order to draw four groups (A, B, C and D) for the finals.
l One of the two host associations (Holland and Belgium) shall be drawn into either Group A or B, and the other host association into Group C or D.
l Each of the four groups will consist of one team from each pot.
l Seedings are based (other than hosts and champions) on Euro 2000 qualifying record.
Pot 1 (top seeds): Germany (reigning champions), Belgium (hosts), Holland (hosts), Spain.
Pot 2 (second seeds): Romania, Norway, Sweden and Czech Republic
Pot 3 (third seeds): Yugoslavia, Portugal, France and Italy.
Pot 4 (fourth seeds): England, Turkey, Denmark and Slovenia.
l Belgium will be based in Brussels for the opening round while Holland will be based in Amsterdam.
l Finals take place from 10 June to 2 July 2000.Reuse content