England concluded their 2013 programme of internationals with back-to-back home defeats to Chile and Germany, with the latter coming courtesy of Per Mertesacker’s header at Wembley on Tuesday night. Despite not fielding Manuel Neuer, Mesut Özil, Philipp Lahm, or Mario Gomez (among many others), the visitors managed to restrict the Three Lions to zero shots on target, a statistic which will be worrying for Roy Hodgson having seen his charges so comprehensively beaten at home by the world number twelves only a few days before.
Germany could probably have fielded a whole other starting eleven from the players left out and still had a stronger team on paper than England, but it was the home team who started the brightest, attacking from the very first whistle. England’s plan was clear – exploit the wings – where Germany’s Heiko Westermann and Marcel Schmelzer were thought to be considerably weaker than their compatriots Mertesacker and Jérôme Boateng in the center.
Ashley Cole and Kyle Walker were getting at the full-backs and the pace of Sturridge and Townsend was causing problems, but England seemed unable to fully break down the German defence. Half-chances came and went, usually for Wayne Rooney, but there was never a real clear-cut opportunity. Germany were threatening on the break through Reus and Götze, but Mönchengladbach’s Max Kruse seemed a little over-awed by the whole occasion, making only his sixth international appearance.
In the end, Germany’s goal was inevitable. Following a period of English pressure, the green shirts streamed forward and won a corner, which was placed directly on to the head of the tallest man on the pitch, the only England-based German in the team, Per Mertesacker.
Joe Hart made an outstanding save to keep him out during his first appearance for three weeks, but the ball came back out to Bayern’s Toni Kroos, who clipped in a delicious cross on the half-volley. it unsurprisingly found the head of Mertesacker, who guided it past Hart just inside the far post. Typical English punditry about typical German efficiency and typical English wastefulness followed, but in all honesty England couldn’t have felt too hard done by, having threatened so little themselves.
In a word, England seemed hesitant. On the occasions when someone did manage to get in behind the German defense, they tried to do something fancy and promptly found themselves without the ball, or support took so long to arrive that the visitors had time to fill their box with defenders. Hodgson’s men were left licking their wounds at half-time while Joachim Löw decided he wasn’t playing fair, bringing on one of the world’s finest defenders in Dortmund’s Mats Hummels.
The second half started at a furious pace with all of the chances going Germany’s way, and although Hart was impressive between the sticks, Marco Reus was wasteful on more than one occasion, and Kruse blazed over with passing options left and right.
Townsend hit the post with an excellent effort from range, wrapping his boot round the ball when it seemed it was beyond him, and an outrageous Adam Lallana turn almost paid dividends, but ultimately Roman Weidenfeller had little to do on his international debut. There was a distinct lack of urgency, and although the game was billed as a friendly, the 85,000 who went to Wembley would have been left disappointed by the apparent lack of passion among the England players against the old enemy.
So where now for England? Both this and the Chile game were, of course, friendlies, but Hodgson fielded strong enough teams in both matches to expect at least a draw at home to Chile. The Three Lions had a fairly satisfactory 2013 all in all, with a win and a draw against Brazil, a strong conclusion to World Cup qualifying and a satisfying victory over Scotland, but the barmy army finally seem to have their expectations in check ahead of next year’s finals in Rio – England are not going to win the World Cup.