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On This Day: Germany 1-5 England, The Three Lions’ Greatest Ever Performance

On This Day: Germany 1-5 England, The Three Lions’ Greatest Ever Performance

England produced arguably the greatest one-off display in their history 19 years ago today when they thrashed Germany 5-1 in Munich during a World Cup qualifier.

All this after going a goal down after six minutes. But a hat-trick from Michael Owen, a Steven Gerrard special and a final flourish from DJ Emile Heskey meant a stunning turnaround for Sven Goran Eriksson's side.

Labelling it England's greatest performance pits it against stiff competition (honest) - especially as England beat West Germany to win a World Cup final on home soil in 1966. But at least one player, who's in a perfect position to judge, agrees with the assessment that 2001 was the superior display.

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"I had never seen an England team playing better football," said Franz Beckenbauer who played in the 1966 final, before going on to win the World Cup as a player and as a manager.

"They had pace, aggression, movement and skill. It was fantasy football."

If Germany's greatest ever footballer was saying that, you can imagine what England's players made of it.

Captain David Beckham is probably handsomely dreaming about this game right now, as he once said: "Beating the Germans in Germany and the way we beat them was incredible. I think about that game almost every day."

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Michael Owen, who'd go on to win a Ballon d'Or three months later, said: "I played three or four games in my career when absolutely everything clicked, everyone had confidence and every chance we got we scored... That game was one of those freaks when everything we touched turned to gold."

It's easy to forget that this scintillating counterattacking masterclass came after a dismal low. Earlier in qualifying, England had lost their last game at the old Wembley, a 1-0 defeat to Germany so poor that Kevin Keegan had no choice but to resign in the toilet afterwards.

This game looked to be going a similar way when Carsten Jancker gave Germany the lead. But Owen equalised, Gerrard rifled in before half-time - then the second was such a one-way pasting that if it was a boxing match, referee Pierluigi Collina would've waved it off to spare Germany the punishment.

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Heskey's fifth was so iconic he unleashed not one but two great goal celebrations: air DJ, followed by golf putt. Incredible stuff.

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Both sides would eventually qualify for the 2002 World Cup - England thanks to Beckham's last-minute free-kick against Greece. However Germany would inevitably do better in the tournament, a Michael Ballack-inspired side reaching the final against Brazil while England had already gone out to the same opposition in the quarters.

Yet it was this remarkable 1-5 victory that sparked mainstream talk of the (now nationally banned) term "Golden Generation" in England.

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Looking at the lineup, it's easy to see why. A back four of Gary Neville, Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand and Sol Campbell sat behind a midfield of Beckham, Gerrard, Paul Scholes and, erm, Nick Barmby.

With Owen up front and the likes of Robbie Fowler, Andy Cole and Real Madrid's Steve McManaman on the bench, it seemed Eriksson's side might be destined for great things.

As it was, this display was easily the most spectacular that crop of players produced for their national team.

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However at least the result helped inspire Ant and Dec's We're On The Ball - a true gift to music - and create chaos on a Saturday night, as disbelieving England fans watched their team absolutely carve up Germany like the next day's roast dinner.

All imagery: PA Images

Topics: Football News, Football, David Beckham, England, Germany, Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard, England Team

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Alex Reid

Alex Reid is a writer at SPORTbible who’s previously strung words together for FourFourTwo, Boxing News, The Guardian and, yes, Cruise International (it’s about big ships, not Tom). Interests range from football and boxing to real sports like WWE and darts. He is not a cage fighter.