Full Time at Wembley: The Last Game at the Home of English Football

15 years ago, England clashed with old rivals Germany in the final game at the old Wembley Stadium.

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08 October 2015, 2:35pm

This article is part of our weekly history series. You can read previous entires here.

You might believe that Dietmar Hamann is a good bloke. With his pleasant smile, easy manner and strange hybrid of an accent that lies somewhere between Bavaria and Birkenhead, he comes across as the epitome of a likeable former footballer. He does not seem like the sort of guy who would break a nation's heart.

But, on 7 October 2000, Didi did something truly hurtful to English football: he scored the only goal in Germany's 1-0 win over the Three Lions – the final competitive game played at the old Wembley Stadium.

It was fitting that the last match to take place at the ground should be the most emotive fixture in England's football history. This time it was the opening qualifier for World Cup 2002, but previous meetings on the same turf included the 1966 World Cup Final and the Euro 96 semi-final. Add in their semi-final meeting at Italia 90, and you have the three most famous games the England national side have ever played.

But, while those encounters involved teams competing at the business end of a major tournament, the final matchup at Wembley saw both at low ebbs.

England had a strong enough side, with younger stars like Beckham, Scholes and Owen blended with veterans such as Adams, Seaman and Keown. Kevin Keegan was in charge, having taken over from Glenn Hoddle a little over a year and a half earlier. Once hailed as the future of the national team, Hoddle had been sacked in February 1999 after suggesting that disabled people were being punished for sins committed in a past life.

Assuming control at a difficult moment, Keegan led his players to Euro 2000, where England had beaten Germany but still exited in the group stage following defeat to Romania. When qualifying for the 2002 World Cup began a few months later, he was on the brink.

The Germans were coming off an even worse Euro 2000. Following the success of Italia 90 and Euro 96, they were now in between great teams, with many of the players who'd lifted those trophies gone, and the new generation of Lahm, Klose and Schweinsteiger still a few years away. Mario Götze – who would score their winner in the 2014 World Cup Final – was just eight years old.

Their showing in Holland and Belgium had been horrendous, finishing bottom of Group A with two defeats and a draw. 39-year-old Lothar Matthäus looked well beyond his best in defence and retired from international football after their exit, while their forwards mustered just one goal in three games. Coach Erich Ribbeck resigned and was replaced by '90 World Cup winner Rudi Völler.

Despite, or indeed because of this disaster, Germany had already stumbled to their feet, dusted themselves off and begun down the road to recovery. The team of October 2000 was still not a great German side, but changes were being instituted that meant they would be world champions again in 14 years.

And this is not to suggest a total lack of talent in the German squad: Oliver Kahn was no shrinking violet in goal, a young Michael Ballack was making the midfield his own, and an ageing Oliver Bierhoff was still being relied upon for goals. Hamann was there too, ready to ensure that the final nail in Wembley's coffin was a precision-engineered German one.

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With Wembley demolition planned to begin around Christmas 2000, this was the only choice as its final competitive fixture, with all due respect to their Group 9 rivals Finland, Greece and Albania. The draw could not have created a better curtain-closer.

The game was the opening match of qualifying, and took place on October 7, with a sprinkling of rain making the Wembley turf slippery and hard to predict. This would be significant.

The first and only goal did not take long. On 13 minutes, Scholes lost possession to Ballack and then brought the Bayer Leverkusen man down in trying to recover the ball (as Scholes – for all his brilliance – had a habit of doing).

Seaman began arranging his wall, though the England players were slow to get organised. Sensing an opportunity, Hamann struck the ball from 50 yards out. It zipped along the slippery surface, and bobbled up just as it reached a diving Seaman. The goalkeeper couldn't get down in time to do anything about it. Germany had the lead.

From there England produced little that suggested they could get back into the game, with their best chance of the first-half an unlikely diving header from Adams, which forced a good save from Kahn.

The final 45 minutes of football at Wembley saw Mehmet Scholl cut through the defence and force an excellent save from Seaman, while Kahn stopped a long-range Beckham effort on the hour. The Manchester United player went close again on 78 minutes with another strike from distance that crept just wide, but England had failed to carve out a clear-cut chance. It would be fair to suggest that they were missing Alan Shearer, who had quit international football following Euro 2000.

In injury time, Sebastian Deisler had a chance to make it two with England badly stretched at the back, but he blazed the ball well over the bar. The full-time whistle blew with the score still at 1-0.

Despite being soaked by the rain, a jubilant Kahn sunk to his knees and pumped the air as if Germany had just booked their spot at the World Cup. There were embraces and high-fives across the pitch from the German players, who clearly relished recording a final win over England at Wembley.

For Keegan it was the final straw: he resigned as England boss following the match, ending his 20 months in charge of the national team and paving the way for England to appoint their first foreign manager, Sven-Göran Eriksson.

And though Germany celebrated on the Wembley turf, perhaps they would have swapped their win to scrub the return fixture from the record books. Less than a year later, England pulled off one of their most historic results by beating their old rivals 5-1 in Munich – where even Heskey scored. They went on to win the group, ensuring automatic passage to the 2002 World Cup, while Germany faced a play-off.

The tournament in Japan and South Korea saw their fortunes swing again: England exited at the quarter-final stage, while the Germans reached the final against Brazil, where they lost to a Ronaldo brace.

But, well over a decade on from the final game at the old Wembley, it is this that truly counts: Germany have added to their collection of major honours, while England seem to have become progressively worse at the big occasions. The old stadium may be gone, but England's problems remain largely unchanged.

@Jim_Weeks