Some things never leave you. When the national anthem starts, I'm sure a shiver runs down any former player's spine. It does mine. On Wednesday, I looked across at Alan Shearer and he just said, "Me too." When I was playing, I often felt on the verge of tears by the time it finished, but a switch flicks and you snap into game mode, the emotion replaced by a rush of pure adrenalin.
It will be the same tomorrow, for the current generation. But even considering the unique pressure of a Germany game, with all the accompanying history, I'd back them to deal with those emotions. In the last match, after all, when they lined up in Port Elizabeth with two poor results behind them including that terrible performance against Algeria, the pressure was huge. At least now they have the confidence of a victory, and that will make so much difference.
As the England players walk down the line shaking their opponents' hands, all kinds of very human thoughts will run through their minds. But they tend to be positive: "He's much smaller than I imagined" or "I can't believe how skinny he is." And it's important for them to stay positive. At this level it's not so much about raw ability, but about coping, like the golfer with a three-foot putt to win the US Open.
Germany have looked good, but it's difficult to get a definite impression from their group games because they have been so different. Australia were poor, Germany played most of the match against Serbia with 10 men, and against Ghana, well, they did enough.
Losing Michael Ballack has turned out to be something of a blessing. He is huge for them, and so experienced, but the younger members of the side have flourished without his dominating presence. Sami Khedira, who is only 23, has taken on the Ballack role and done really well, and Mesut Ozil is looking dangerous going forward from midfield.
But make no mistake: Germany are beatable. The centre of the defence is an area England can exploit. Arne Friedrich may have more than 70 caps but he is first and foremost a full-back, and there are times when it shows. His partner, Per Mertesacker, also has plenty of experience, but he was caught out for Serbia's winning goal.
At left-back, Holger Badstuber looked great going forward against Australia but had a nightmare against Serbia. So Jerome Boateng played there instead against Ghana, then picked up a knock – so they have problems on the left, too.
At right-back, Philipp Lahm is a talented player, but is perhaps not quite as good as his big reputation would suggest, and his positioning is sometimes suspect.
Ozil is their best player – by far. He sits in that hole behind the opposition's midfield, a creator and a finisher, and is very difficult to pick up. If (when) England play a rigid 4-4-2, with Gerrard wide, it will make life easier for Germany. But if Gerrard can copy Ozil and get into that channel, then it asks much tougher questions of the German midfield and defence.
Miroslav Klose will probably come back from suspension to play as a lone striker. That means one of our centre-halves could step up on Ozil. The alternative would be for Barry to go man-for-man on him. It's a game of cat and mouse, and the managers will have spent the last few days poring over videos. But I prefer the more positive approach: don't pin Barry down, but concentrate on our game and trust the defence to pick up our midfield runners.
There was a sense of euphoria in the studio after the Slovenia game but by the time it came to the highlights, a touch of reality had sunk in: Slovenia were rubbish – particularly poor compared to the two games before. Still, it was a huge improvement for England. One win and all the talk of a power struggle disappears. A win is an elixir – and there were plenty of positives. James Milner made a big difference. I've always liked him and said ahead of the tournament that he could be a key player. He struggled against the US, but in the last game he was fully fit. Gerrard improved, though, against Slovenia and Matthew Upson did really well. He may not be blisteringly quick, but he is faster off the mark than Jamie Carragher.
Wayne Rooney was better, too. He enjoyed having Gerrard playing further forward and that stopped him dropping off too much. Physically, there was more snap in his game, he just needs a goal so badly. The other big concern has been Frank Lampard and he too improved. He got into the box more and his form is coming back, but it's not vintage Lampard yet.
This may be the last World Cup for many of the England players, whereas a number of the Germans are just starting out. But I don't see that as a factor. None of the England side is past their peak, and they are good enough to beat Germany. England are a decent unit – there is more to come from them. More agony perhaps, but more ecstasy, too.
Capello's strength is Lippi's failing
Fabio Capello largely stuck to his guns against Slovenia: 4-4-2, with Steven Gerrard on the left. There's no reason to think that Capello will not field the same side, so I have to stick to my guns and say I still don't think it's the right option. The best players should be in their best positions. Gerrard should support a lone striker, Rooney, from a five-man midfield. But there were subtle changes on Wednesday that gave England better balance.
Capello may have softened a bit, letting the players have a drink and relaxing a little, but he still fielded the side in the way he wants them to play. And for that he deserves great credit. If England had lost he would have been slaughtered, and you can't help but admire him for doing things his way and keeping faith with the basic formation he has always favoured.
Compare Capello's approach to that of his compatriot Marcello Lippi. Holders Italy played three different formations in three games, and look where they are now.
My Team of the Week
The south Americans are still the best sides in the tournament, and one player who has stood out is Alexis Sanchez of Chile. I picked him out as one to watch before the tournament and he hasn't let me down. He plays up front in a 4-3-3 (the same formation I've picked here), and can go on either side or through the middle. Elsewhere, credit has to go to Samir Handanovic – Slovenia were poor against England but the goalkeeper was immense. No keeper has been better this week in my book. And Juan Veron barely put a foot wrong for Argentina against Greece. What a passing perfomance.
1. The wisdom of Wenger
Football at this level is about the smallest details. That is Arsène Wenger's mantra. It's about mental strength across 90 minutes: your mind has to rule your body. Football always throws things up – look at the Landon Donovan goal for the US and the direction that has sent England in. But we can beat Germany.
2. Video analysis does strange things to a football fan
I went to the Holland v Cameroon game at Cape Town's Green Point Stadium on Thursday night – the first one I've been to "off-duty". You watch games in a totally different way when you're not working – although there is always a part of you thinking: "Look at how the left-back is..."
3. Will the real Juan Sebastian Veron please stand up
It's difficult to watch Argentina's great passer and playmaker and match the man pulling the strings with the guy who played in the Premier League. He looks like Veron but he doesn't play like the Veron I remember – must be an impostor.
4. 'Dear David and Nick, I've got a bit of a problem...'
The whole French thing just gets more ridiculous with the news that Thierry Henry phoned Sarkozy to ask for a meeting. That's just amazing. Hasn't he got more important things to do, like sorting out a recession (Sarkozy, that is)? Can you imagine Steven Gerrard ringing No 10?
5. Squeaky bum time
I was shifting uneasily in my seat watching the England game, and it wasn't down to nerves. I went out on a bike ride on Wednesday morning and ended up doing 80km. It was a bit sore sitting down afterwards, but at least I'm now saddle-hardened. I tried to get Shearer to come with me but he couldn't get up in time, and as for Hansen – well, can you imagine him on a bike? It's an odd experience watching England from a studio. Along with Shearer and Lineker, I was noting things for analysis one minute and screaming at the screen the next – then trying to compose myself at the end. Of course, unlike the rest of us, Hansen doesn't have these problems.Reuse content