England 0-0 Germany: Young and experimental Three Lions provide glimmer of hope during Wembley stalemate
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
An experimental England drew 0-0 with World Champions Germany on Friday evening in front of 81,382 fans at Wembley.
With Gareth Southgate opting not to pick fit and in-form Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere he gave a debut to Crystal Palace’s 21-year-on loan Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek as well as Swansea City’s Tammy Abrahams, with Spurs Eric Dier as captain.
The fact a talent as good as Marcus Rashford was left on the bench indicated more muddled team selection. A match against Germany is not an occasion to treat like a League Cup tie.
With Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil dropping deeper as a more defensive midfielder working in tandem with Manchester City’s Ilkay Gundogan, alongside Etihad colleague Leroy Sane also playing further back than expected the trio were instrumental in denying space and time for England to build.
The flipside of that was England’s number eight Dier performed a similar role invariably cancelling out Joachim Low’s attacking options.
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But the main positives to take were Everton keeper Jordan Pickford showing superb anticipation, athleticism and command of his area on his debut. Allied with a good distribution, confident manner and willingness to patrol all areas of his box resulted in him denying RB Leipzig’s highly-rated 21-year-old forward Timo Werner three times in a bright first half for the visitors.
Questions must now be asked whether West Ham’s Joe Hart is entitled to be undisputed first choice England goalkeeper. It will certainly be interesting to see who starts against Brazil on Tuesday at the same venue.
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Dier was a calm and steady hand on the tiller. Rather like his grandfather and former FA chairman Ted Croker. The late Croker was a dignified man – and how they could have done with such unfashionable calm counsel at times recently. But he could look down with a pride at his grandson Dier’s unsung but important contribution in nullifying the German threat.
Croker would also have been proud of the minute’s silence at Wembley for The Fallen of two World Wars ahead of the clash between these two nations, which was as poignant as it was impeccably observed.
It was a reminder of the 20th century battles between these European giants who have far more in common than they think.
There was certainly a unity between the military as armed forces from both countries stood side by side in the Remembrance Service before the whistle – and on the pitch as both sets of teams wore poppies.
A far cry from the dictatorial nonsense imposed by UEFA this time last year when England and Scotland were banned from displaying the dignified sign of remembrance.
Football has done much to repair relations between the two countries – not least the fact more than 100,000 England fans enjoyed themselves during the 2006 World Cup in Germany, with the only thing smashed being stale preconceptions of Germans and their homeland.
Friday’s match was also a reminder of previous fixtures between the two – although the first official clash is listed as 1930, a squad representing the FA played Germany four times on a tour of Germany and Austria in November 1899.
The England team played a representative German team in Berlin on 23 November 1899 beating them 13–2. Two days later they won again, this time 10–2. The third and fourth matches were played in Prague and Karlsruhe against a combined Austrian and German side, and England won 6–0 and 7–0.
There was nothing as surreal as those scorelines expected on Friday at a sold out Wembley – certainly not when Joachim Low’s world champions had only lost one of their last 26 matches, a 2-0 loss to France at 2016.
With Germany finding the net in 13 of their last 14 matches against England – the exception being the 1-0 defeat to Kevin Keegan’s poor side in Euro 2000 – goals were expected.
But with Pickford strong and alert in the first half and both midfields cancelling each other out – even if there was space behind the backlines on the rare occasions they were breached – the goals failed to come.
It was instructive to recall that 1-0 victory over Erich Ribbeck’s desperately poor side 17 years ago essentially kick-started the road to Rio and glory in 2014 for German football - as administrators worked as one to restore the country’s football reputation – by introducing a coherent plan to employ talented coaches at all levels of football.
If only it were so simple in England – even if the word from St George’s Park and the success of the Under-17s and Under-20s suggests there could be a fruitful few years for England if the current crop is harvested properly.
Southgate did give five debuts in total on Friday, Pickford, Loftus-Cheek, Abraham, Jack Cork and Joe Gomez. Who knows how many will become regulars but whatever you think of Southgate it’s refreshing to see talented youngsters brought in because they are deemed good enough with their tender ages not being deemed a handicap.
Yet little was expected on Friday considering England’s starting XI combined had only 15 more caps than Mesut Ozil in the most inexperienced Three Lions line-up since 1980.
Pre-match discussion centred on past games but a rare fact for those who still talk about 1966 is that England played Germany twice that year. A 1-0 win in Berlin in the February set them up nicely for the tournament.
Alf Ramsey was reported to have attended a cocktail reception stuffed with FA bigwigs not long after.
When questioned on what his role was – remember they’d only scrapped the committee system of picking teams before he was appointed – irked, he replied in that curious mix of Dagenham and elocution lessons ‘my role ‘h’is to attend facking cocktail parties’.
He was of course to write his name into the history books a few short months later but would Friday’s game launch Gareth Southgate’s curious assembly on a path to immortality in Russia next summer with a victory over the Germans? No, in short was the answer.
There was nearly an incredible start to the game when Jamie Vardy drove down Germany’s left flank before squaring the ball into the box.
Swansea City’s Tammy Abraham just failed to connect to make it a debut to remember. The ball fell to Spurs right-back Kieran Trippier who fired a low shot into Barcelona and German keeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen’s side netting.
On eight minutes Leroy Sane evaded Phil Jones to fire a low left footed drive narrowly past Jordan Pickford’s near post.
The talented Manchester City youngster who is flowering before our eyes struck the crossbar 12 minutes later.
Moments later a busy Pickford saved from Timo Werner’s left-footed shot after Arsenal’s Ozil fed him with a through-ball.
Germany could have scored with four minutes to go before the break after Werner fired a low shot across Pickford but the Everton man proved equal to the challenge. It’s good to see a keeper who is not only athletic and alert but has strong wrists to keep danger at bay.
England, perhaps spurred on by the let-offs went up the other end and nearly scored through the eager Abraham whose deflected shot wrong-footed Ter Stegen but spun the wrong side of the post. Jake Livermore then struck a low shot past the Nou Camp shot-stopper’s left hand post.
To cap a strong finish to the half for Southgate’s men Vardy lifted the ball over the German keeper only for it to be cleared by his defenders. The highlight of the move was a superb through-ball from Loftus-Cheek.
No wonder the crowd applauded England off the pitch at the interval after the Polish referee Pawel Raczowski blew for half time.
However, without wanting to delve too much into statistics – this correspondent gave up looking too deeply when Brazil had 52 per cent of the possession at Belo Horizonte against Low’s Germans in 2014 during the still-incredible 7-1 humiliation – the fact Spurs Harry Winks registered two ‘key passes’ during the first 45 minutes said it all. For no England player managed more.
With that in mind it would have been interesting to learn Jack Wilshere’s thoughts on the match – and on Southgate’s team selection.
The second half saw an encouraging opening for England as Vardy was denied by Ter Stegen on 49 minutes.
However, there followed a stream of substitutions which saw the match descend into a disjointed affair as fans took to switching on the torches on their mobile phones and waving them around in the air.
It wasn’t long before some attempted to launch paper airplanes onto the pitch to the loudest cheers of the night. It was that sort of game.
Low said afterwards in his press conference the game the second half contained few chances and the match drifted away lost in a flurry of changes and scrappy play. Southgate for his part admitted Germany had ‘another level to go to’.
The positives Southgate can take from this match: Pickford is a huge prospect in goal. Loftus-Cheek, playing only his 21st match is a confident talent with quick feet and Abraham worked hard.
Jessie Lingard could have won the match in the final seconds but he snatched at a shot in a crowded box and swept the ball high over the bar.
In truth it was appropriate Friday’s goalless draw – the first at this stadium since 2010 against Montenegro - meant the 33rd meeting between the two sides remained on 13 wins each, for neither side deserved to edge ahead on the night or in the head-to-head.
Southgate said in his press conference afterwards England showed real composure on the ball as his Three Lions remained unbeaten at Wembley under his tenure with five wins and two draws.
The notion was a positive one - but you couldn’t help but wonder how much more composure England would have had with Wilshere prompting the young midfield.
England: Pickford, Trippier (Walker 72), Jones (Gomez 25, booked 45), Stones, Maguire, Rose (Bertrand 71), Loftus-Cheek, Dier (captain), Livermore booked 59 Cork 86), Abraham (Rashford 60), Vardy (Lingard 86)
Germany: ter Stegen, Ginter, Hummels, Rudiger, Kimmich, Ozil, Gundogan (Rudy 86), Halstenberg, Draxler (Canat 67), Sane (Brandt 87), Werner (Wagner 73)
Referee: Pawel Raczowski (Poland)