For supporters of a certain age, Tuesday night is a glorious opportunity for England to bring their knockout hoodoo against Germany to an end, but Gareth Southgate and his players view the occasion as a potential beginning.
It is impossible for Southgate to avoid being drawn down memory lane given his personal history in this fixture, but his squad have no interest in what has come before.
Since their last-16 opponent was confirmed, England’s players have spent nearly a week looking politely non-plussed at references to Euro ’96 and all that, as the rest of the country prepares for the game with waves of mingled nostalgia and regret.
England are the youngest squad left in the tournament and 11 of Southgate’s 26 charges were not born a quarter of a century ago, when the manager missed the decisive penalty against Germany at Wembley.
Only a few are old enough to have meaningful memories of that tournament, with the defeat by Germany at World Cup 2010 a solitary point of reference in the post-1966 history of this fixture.
England’s tunnel vision also reflects something more profound than the youth of the squad, however.
Since taking the job in the wake of the embarrassing defeat by Iceland at Euro 2016, Southgate has worked to ensure England are no longer defined by past failures but instead a group conscious of their own place in history.
The manager knows as well as anyone what it is to be immortalised for one match and on the eve of tonight’s game he took another opportunity to remind his players they can go down in history for the right reasons.
“If you think of all the big players in history, there are significant memories [of them] in club and European football of course, but when you picture those great players it’s normally in an international shirt,” he said. “That is the case every time you pull on an England shirt. It is an opportunity that few get and these lads have earned it. I’m sure they are going to relish that.”
The manager’s message has resonated with the squad and several members of the camp, including captain Harry Kane, have spoken stirringly about writing their own history or creating their own stories against Germany.
England’s outlook underlines the sense that they are still a squad on the way up under Southgate, who remains in the early stages of a cycle that was initially meant to peak with the 2022 World Cup.
The hope, of course, is that England remain ahead of schedule following their unexpected run to the World Cup semi-final in Russia, particularly as Euro 2020 opens up ahead of them, with holders Portugal, tournament favourites France and World Cup finalists Croatia already eliminated.
Germany, on the other hand, are coming to the end of a cycle under coach Joachim Low, who will step down at the end of the tournament and is hoping to go out with another bang after guiding them to the 2014 World Cup.
Many of the German players have already created history and the very different states of the two squads should create an intriguing dynamic.
Low’s squad is vastly experienced, with the coach having recalled Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels, who had not played for Germany in more than two years before this summer, and keeping faith in other World Cup veterans like Toni Kroos, Ilkay Gundogan and Manuel Neuer. The result is a side packed with know-how and boasting a winning mentality but also arguably gone stale and bearing the scars of their group-stage exit in Russia in 2018.
England have a freshness about them, which Southgate hopes will be reflected in a fearlessness on the big occasions. The manager has said his young squad are not weighed down by any “baggage of failure” but they are also inexperienced, which has already manifested itself at this tournament in an underwhelming display against Scotland, with Southgate admitting the “unique” occasion had got to his players.
With double the amount of fans at Wembley on Tuesday evening — around 40,000 in total and the vast majority English — the atmosphere and pressure will be ramped up for both sides and, for all the talk of the need for England to play the game and not the occasion, the conditions will inevitably impact both sides.
The ultimate test of mentalities could, of course, be penalties — another area where Southgate has worked hard to convince his players that fate and fortune are no match for consistent and considered preparation.
Rather than viewing Tuesday night as a chance to exorcise his own personal 25-year demons, Southgate views his own heartbreak in this fixture as another piece of noise to be shut out.
“I can’t win this game,” he said. “It will be the players who win it. It’s important the focus is on them. The opportunity is theirs. What happened to me has helped in many different areas of my life but it’s of no importance to this group and every time you play an opponent it’s about two sets of players. It’s about how well they prepared and how well they perform.
“There are always records in the Premier League of teams who haven’t won at certain grounds for 30 years but at some point that record gets broken. All those barriers are there to be knocked down in life and that’s the mentality we have got to have.”