“We like Wembley and we like to come to England,” Lothar Matthäus says with a smile. “Yes, it’s a motivation for our players. We like motivations.”
It is more than 20 years since the man who won a record 150 Germany caps and became the first outfield player to appear in five World Cup finals hung up his boots but his competitive edge clearly remains. Matthäus – who captained Franz Beckenbauer’s side to their penalty shootout victory against England in the semi-final at Italia 90 but missed the Euro 96 rematch at Wembley after falling out with Jürgen Klinsmann and the manager Berti Vogts – is typically confident about Germany’s chances on Tuesday should it go the distance again.
“We are always very good with penalties – it’s always a little bit of a joke between the Germans and the English,” he says. “But I think if it goes to a shootout then we are the favourites because then you start to think about what has happened in the last 30 or 40 years. When we played in 1990 and 1996 … it’s a lot of pressure for the English players because they read every day in the newspapers all the stories about penalties. So England have a chance to win the game in 90 minutes or 120 minutes. But if it goes to penalties then Germany are the favourites.”
Matthäus’s assuredness will not shock those who remember his playing days. Having made his West Germany debut as a teenager in the side that won the 1980 European Championship, the midfielder won the Ballon d’Or for his exploits at the 1990 World Cup. Yet despite being the team’s penalty taker and scoring past Peter Shilton in the shootout against England, he allowed Andreas Brehme to take the winning spot-kick in the final against Argentina because he didn’t feel comfortable with the new boots he had changed into at half-time.
“I had played two World Cups before in 1982 and 1986 and got to the final so there was a spirit in that team from the very beginning,” says Matthäus, a Uefa ambassador for Booking.com, the official accommodation and attractions booking partner of Uefa Euro 2020.
“Even before it started we knew we were ready to win the World Cup and we went into the tournament with this confidence. Then we showed it. The strongest game was against England in the semi-final – they had a fantastic team that was getting better and better throughout the tournament. It was a strong fight between England and Germany to go to the final and I have to congratulate the English team for their performance.”
Germany scraped into the last 16 at Euro 2020 thanks to Leon Goretzka’s late equaliser against Hungary in Munich on Wednesday. Matthäus watched with Hansi Flick, who will succeed Joachim Löw after this tournament, and he is not convinced the 2014 World Cup-winning manager has the right gameplan.
“I don’t have any more the feeling I had when he did the best job I ever saw from him and he won the World Cup,” he said. “Yesterday I was missing the connection between himself on the bench and the players on the field. It was the same with his changes. He changed so many things. He changed one player for another and also the system. Joshua Kimmich was playing four positions. OK, in the end we had a result but how can each player feel confident generally when we are changing so many things during a game? From the position of a player to the changes. There’s no security for the team.”
Goretzka’s goal was set up by the 18-year-old substitute Jamal Musiala, the Bayern Munich forward who opted to play for Germany despite representing England at several youth levels. Matthäus, mystified by Gareth Southgate’s reluctance to select Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho in England’s starting lineup so far, is delighted Musiala chose to represent the country of his birth and believes the former Chelsea academy player must start.
“If Sancho’s not good enough for England, we would like to give him a German passport. But we are very happy with Musiala. He showed his quality yesterday. When he came on he performed in 10 minutes better than all of the other offensive players had managed for the 80 minutes before. It was fantastic for me to see and it was good for the team because his assist for the second goal gave Germany the chance to play against England. Without him I think Germany would have lost the game and been out of the tournament.
“For me, he has to start. I’ve seen over the last two or three years players who don’t have the level of performance but Löw is always picking them. Football has changed over the last five or 10 years and everyone can see it. I think we can perform better when we play a different system and have different players.”
Matthäus dismisses the suggestion that England’s many tournament defeats by Germany mean there can be only one outcome.
“You don’t have to be so negative and so pessimistic! You have to be optimistic for the future. I think when you see how England reached the semi-finals three years ago at the World Cup, they have fantastic players who play for the best clubs in the Premier League and all around the world. They have won titles with their club teams so there has to be a lot of confidence from that.
“I respect this team very much because I have seen what these players have done all year for their clubs and I think they can perform much better than they have shown in the first three games. If they play at the highest level they can beat Germany.”
Unless it goes to penalties, of course.