Any attempt to measure England's victory in Munich on Saturday against past events in their football history is bound to collide with knowledge that it was achieved in a skirmish, not the battle for which they are striving to qualify. Putting five goals past Germany in their own backyard was quite a feat, extending way beyond a personal belief that Sven Goran Eriksson's team were equipped to exploit serious defensive shortcomings, but as Eriksson himself sensibly states it is too early to talk of renaissance.
Victories over Albania and Greece should now secure England a trip to next year's World Cup finals without having to endure the hazards of play-off matches but optimism is not a wind to disperse the shadow of 1966, when they registered their only success in a major tournament.
Four years earlier, with Jimmy Armfield, Ray Wilson and an emerging Bobby Moore in defence, Bobby Charlton, Jimmy Greaves and Johnny Haynes among the forwards, England set off for the World Cup in Chile following a run that put them among the favourites; they had beaten a talented Scotland 9-3, Spain 4-2, Italy 3-2 away, and other teams by scores of 5-2, 9-0, 5-1 and 8-0. It came to nothing when they lost to Brazil in the quarter finals.
Trying to arrive at a point where the sort of praise heaped upon England's performance in Munich was fully justified is not easy. The 1966 World Cup final certainly, although that rare success was obtained with the enormous advantage of having played every match at Wembley. The 0-0 draw England managed in Italy under Glenn Hoddle to qualify for the 1998 World Cup finals was an immensely creditable effort and they have rarely imposed themselves so completely on the opposition than when Terry Venables' team defeated the Netherlands 4-1 in Euro 1996.
As hosts, and then champions, England were not required to qualify for the 1966 and 1970 World Cup finals and then spent 12 years in the wilderness. After losses to Switzerland, Romania and Norway, the gloom might have lasted another four years but for a win over Hungary in Budapest, sealed by a terrific strike from Trevor Brooking, although it was Switzerland's win in Romania that saw them through.
England are not without creditable foreign victories but since many go back to and, in some cases, beyond the heydays of Tom Finney, Stan Matthews, Tommy Lawton, Billy Wright and Frank Swift when there was a great deal less competitive international football, Saturday's victory is sure to stand out in the future.
On the basis of information received from people in football who had closely studied Germany's performances since their win at Wembley a year ago, most recently a 5-2 success in Hungary, I took the 9-4 on offer against England in Munich and 20-1 against them winning the World Cup, a price that was more than halved at the end of proceedings in Bavaria. I have no great confidence in the second of those wagers but, if Germany's football was anything to go by, you never know.
Reports reaching Eriksson spoke of defenders who struggled against aerial attacks, who were low on concentration and the know-how to handle the pace of Michael Owen and Emile Heskey. Conceding little to the notion that international football calls for a more subtle approach than the Premiership demands, England exploited traditional strengths and Owen's peerless opportunism. In many ways it looked like a sophisticated version of the method Jack Charlton employed when qualifying the Republic of Ireland for the finals of two World Cups and a European Championship.
Speaking on television last week, the hero of 1966, Geoff Hurst, pointed out that Eriksson appears to follow Alf Ramsey's fundamental principle of selecting players in their club positions. In common with another great manager, Matt Busby, Eriksson also appears to have the knack of picking the right men for the job.
It was noticeable that once England had recovered from the nervousness that cost an early goal they got the ball forward quickly, only putting it at risk when attempting to play into Germany's penalty area. The future holds sterner tests and will call for better understanding at close quarters than England's defenders showed in Munich (apart from scoring first, Germany squandered three clear cut chances) however the effects of their intelligent directness is sure to cause concern in world football.
So how good were England, how bad were Germany? The answer lies somewhere in between. All England's goals carried the stamp of Anfield and yet only a week ago Owen, Heskey and Gerrard, as well as Robbie Fowler, were kept at bay by a resolute Bolton defence that boasts no star international defenders. England's defence needs further education but Germany's did not exist. Declaring that England were somewhat flattered by the scoreline, Eriksson is clearly a man with his feet on the floor. Germany couldn't get theirs off it. Add Owen's predatory instinct, and bingo – a result for English football that probably stands above all but one other.Reuse content