ENGLAND'S LIONHEARTS GET UNLIKELY SUPPORT FROM GERMAN FOOTBALL FANS

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It is an international footballing rivalry so historic that nearly 60 years later opposing fans still consider their team's victory over the other hugely significant.

But the much-storied competitiveness between England and Germany forged in that famous 1966 World Cup win could finally be mellowing at last.

In a Dortmund sports bar popular with Three Lions supporters, Germans are admitting they may well be cheering on Southgate's men - and it's all thanks to Jude Bellingham

His three-year spell with Borussia Dortmund means the star is still viewed with affection among the locals.

And tonight the Three Lions head to the semi-finals of Euro 2024 and will play at Dortmund's grounds.

A waiter at sports bar Wenkers confirmed: 'Of course we support Bellingham. He was a great player for us.'

A source at Dortmund told The Times: 'I would expect many local fans who have tickets to also be rooting for him.'

They went on to say the 'affection for him is still strong'.

After they went through on penalties in Switzerland, England are now one step closer to ending the men's team's run without a major tournament trophy.

This is good news for Bellingham, 21, as playing on his old grounds will mean the unlikely support of German fans because of his popularity.

It comes after Bellingham's furious attack on 'match-fixing' referee Felix Zwayer resurfaced as he prepares to adjudicate England's semi final.

Three Lions fans scrambled to fly out to Dortmund for the high-stakes encounter, which could see their team have another shot at glory at their second successive Euros final.

But many are fuming at UEFA's 'disgraceful' decision to allow Zwayer to oversee the game, given his 2005 conviction for taking a €300 (£253.82) bribe from a fellow referee who was fixing the match.

After he oversaw Borussia Dortmund's contentious 3-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in 2021, Bellingham - then playing for Dortmund - hit out at his appointment and was subsequently fined.

'You can look at a lot of the decisions in the game,' Bellingham said in a post-match TV interview. 'You give a referee, that has match-fixed before, the biggest game in Germany. What do you expect?'

Bellingham is known for his passion on the pitch and some fans will worry Zwayer's presence could serve to provoke him.

The midfielder is England's biggest star and has played a crucial part in the campaign so far, including a spectacular last-gasp goal against Slovakia and a penalty in the shoot-out against Switzerland.

Zwayer attracted Bellingham's ire after officiating a Bundesliga match between the Englishman's former club Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich in 2021.

The ref turned down Dortmund appeals for a penalty during the crunch clash and later awarded Bayern a spot-kick after penalising Mats Hummels for handball.

A 2005 investigation found Zwayer - then a linesman - accepted a bribe from match referee Robert Hoyzer to favour second-tier German club Wuppertaler SV in their match against Werder Bremen Amateure in May 2004.

The money was paid by Robert Hoyzer, the main match referee, who was subsequently banned for life.

Zwayer was among a group of officials who brought Hoyzer's match-fixing plot to light, hence the decision to only ban him for half a year.

He will lead an all-German officiating team at tomorrow's match in Dortmund which also includes his assistants Stefan Lupp and Marco Achmuller, plus VAR Bastian Dankert.

Mail Sport contacted UEFA for comment and asked how, given his background, Zwayer could be chosen to officiate such a fixture. It is understood that UEFA bosses conducted a review which has now concluded.

Zwayer's six-month ban was kept quiet until German newspaper Zeit broke the story years later.

The investigation found that while Hoyzer, who was sentenced to two years and five months in prison, Zwayer's apartment was searched and he was found to have behaved in a 'grossly anti-sporting' manner.

After Bellingham's attack on Zwayer, Dortmund insisted they were '100 per cent' behind their player.

Sporting director Michael Zorc said: 'It was a very emotional situation, he was very disappointed and only named known facts.'

Chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke added: 'To be clear, Jude was not spreading lies, but what happened in the past.

'This statement shouldn't have been, but I don't see anything untrue there.'

England defender Luke Shaw was asked whether the team were uncomfortable about Zwayer's appointment at a press conference yesterday.

'No, not at all. We have to respect UEFA in whoever they decide to pick as the ref. That won't change anything about us,' he said.

'We still just focus on the game in hand, not too much about what refs we've been given or this and that. For us, it won't make any difference.'

Asked if he had ever played in a game where he felt the referee was against his team, Shaw replied: 'No, not really. Sometimes in the heat of the moment, you get angry in games and you might think that, but no.

'Whatever ref has been picked, has been picked. We just have to be ready and not focus on that.'

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