John Stones says England are ready to break down another barrier by ending their long wait to beat a top nation like Germany at a major tournament.
After years of false hope and gut-wrenching disappointments, the Three Lions heeded Gareth Southgate’s calls to write their own stories at the 2018 World Cup.
England’s run to the semi-finals in Russia was as unforgettable as it was unexpected, with the side ending the nation’s 12-year wait for a knockout victory and penalty shootout hoodoo by beating Colombia.
Tuesday’s Euro 2020 last-16 tie against Joachim Low’s men offers the chance to overcome another big hurdle, having not beaten a top nation at a major tournament for a long time.
England have never even won a European Championship knockout match in 90 minutes, while Germany brings back memories of the shootout losses of 1990 World Cup and Euro 96 as well as the 2010 World Cup exit.
“I think when you’re looked at as one of the best teams and best talents or best group, you want to test yourselves against the best teams and that’s the opportunity we’ve got now on Tuesday,” England defender Stones said. “To test ourselves and win.
“The Scotland game we didn’t win but I think the winning mentality and the mentality of how we’ve played.
“I know it wasn’t probably the best game of football to watch as an outsider but for us players, we went out there, we did our job.
“We didn’t concede in three games. That’s a massive thing in tournament football, to keep clean sheets and to keep progressing.
“That allows the players up top to go out and score the goals and express themselves.
“But the winning mentality and the willingness to win is now coming out, I’ve not seen as much in previous squads before 2018.
“There’s a real hunger there which is so natural to everyone.
“As I was saying when we come up against Germany on Tuesday, it’s a time to really test ourselves and show not just Europe, but the world, what a good team we are.
“Obviously we give Germany massive respect, as you do any top-class team, but we have to go out and show ourselves and implement our game.”
England have yet to concede at the Euros and are undefeated heading into a last-16 tie that they are prepared to go all the way in.
Saturday marked 25 years to the day since Southgate’s saved penalty led to the semi-final loss to Germany – something Die Mannschaft’s Twitter account was quick to remind people of.
But gone is the ad hoc approach that proved costly at Euro 96, with players comfortable and prepared for penalties should Tuesday’s match go beyond 120 minutes.
“With how we do it now, we’ve been practising so much,” Stones said.
“We’ve been practising on keeping that clear focus of what to do if your turn comes up.
“I remember being seventh in the World Cup, after Eric (Dier). That was a scary moment.
“But I was ready because of this process that we’ve always talked about. It’s about making you as comfortable as possible in that situation.
“Because, unless it’s Harry (Kane) or the boys who take penalties for their clubs regularly, it’s a zone that we’ve not stepped into before.”
Stones says the chance to make history is “at the forefront of our minds” heading into the knockout phase as the squad looks to give the nation something to smile about at during a challenging time.
“I’ve said it so many times, but we – and I, really – wanted to change the way the nation looks at the team and English football,” the Manchester City centre-back said.
“I think we’ve taken massive strides in that since 2018 and it’s about doing it again. I don’t think we should put any more pressure on ourselves.
“There’s a trophy to be won here that’s never been won before and we should be super-excited by that, and go in with that fearlessness that we’ve had over these years.”