England’s carnival atmosphere will endure for days to come after two late goals put the Three Lions firmly on the path to Euro 2020 glory.
Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling and Tottenham striker Harry Kane struck twice within 11 minutes following a tense first half, securing a memorable victory over Germany in the last-16 tie at Wembley.
They will play outsiders Ukraine in a quarter-final showdown in Rome on Saturday, with some bookmakers now installing England as new tournament favourites.
An animated Duke of Cambridge was among the 40,000 supporters who roared England to a historic win inside Wembley on Tuesday evening – the FA president throwing his arms aloft alongside his seven-year-old son, Prince George, and the Duchess of Cambridge, as each goal went in.
Fans sought to rouse their heroes with a rendition of the anthemic Three Lions and its familiar refrain “football’s coming home” early in the second half following a tense and rather insipid opening 45 minutes.
But a sweeping move involving captain Kane, playmaker Jack Grealish and defender Luke Shaw was finished off expertly by Sterling to send the crowd into raptures.
There was a similarly cacophonous roar from the partisan home support as Germany striker Thomas Muller dragged a late shot wide when clean through on goal.
Kane finished off a Grealish cross in the 86th minute to seal a 2-0 victory.
Outside – in designated fan zones, pub beer gardens and parks – there was little evidence that the tournament was being held in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Euros have been delayed from last summer as Covid-19 swept the globe, yet the customary reactions to an England goal – strangers hugging each other and drinks being hurled high into the air – showed no sign of being tempered.
A party atmosphere broke out in Trafalgar Square in London after England scored their second goal.
Several men ripped off their shirts and started to dance on the tables, much to the annoyance of security.
England fan Matt Champion, from Bristol – who was celebrating his 32nd birthday, told the PA news agency: “It’s unbelievable, I never saw this coming.
“I bought a cigar in anticipation for the win from Cuba, I’m excited to smoke it.
“I’m very, very happy. This is the best birthday party I could have ever organised.”
Fellow supporter Jay Gittelmon, 20, from north-west London, said of Sterling’s opening goal: “I’ve never felt anything like that, it’s the best moment of my life.
“I had to use my inhaler as I ran out of breath.”
Later, fans took to the streets of London to celebrate, with crowds gathering in Leicester Square before dozens of supporters climbed up on to the Shaftesbury Fountain in Piccadilly Circus.
Many England supporters were not born the last time England faced Germany in the European Championships, in a Euro 96 semi-final.
Back then, England’s quest for silverware ended in disappointment as defender Gareth Southgate saw his sudden-death penalty saved, and Germany advanced to the final.
On Tuesday, Southgate, now managing the national team, reacted with his customary composure as his side went ahead.
Sue Bedding, 59, an NHS worker from Nottingham who watched the game from Trafalgar Square, said: “I’m made up, it’s been an absolutely brilliant night.
“I remember the (Euro) 96 match and I was completely gutted when we lost, so now I’m quite optimistic for the rest of the Euros.”
Pubs swelled with supporters wearing replica football strips in the hours leading up to kick-off, while St George’s flags billowed in the mid-summer breeze as diehard and fair-weather fans alike enjoyed the feel-good spirit.
The hopeful disposition among England supporters has been boosted by an unbeaten, if unspectacular, canter through the group stages of the competition without conceding a goal.
And with the likes of France, the Netherlands, and reigning European champions Portugal already eliminated, commentators have suggested England’s path to major tournament success for the first time in 55 years has rarely been easier.
The undisputed high water mark of the England men’s team’s history – the 1966 World Cup triumph – came against West Germany.
The Metropolitan Police said three people had been arrested at Wembley, one for racially aggravated common assault, and two for fraud by false representation.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is not known to have a keen interest in football, tweeted after the game: “Well done England!
“We’re all behind you – bring it home!”
Some fans were forced to watch the game from personal devices on the M62 after a Carling branded lorry caught fire, creating delays of several hours around Greater Manchester.
The driver escaped unhurt.