After the long winter break it was finally time for the international programme to start up again in earnest, with the DFB arranging a pair of exciting prestige friendlies against two old rivals, England and Italy. With less than three months to go before the start of the European Championships in France, these games were the perfect opportunity for Nationaltrainer Joachim Löw to get his team back on track after a testing qualifying campaign.
The first fixture against a young and largely inexperienced England team in Berlin should have eased Löw’s team into the the run-in towards the finals, but after a comfortable start things quickly went awry. The long shadow of the Mannschaft’s winless record against the Three Lions in the German capital looked to have been cast aside, but a horrible mix of poor tactics and individual errors – and the determination of the opposition – ensured that the eighty-six year old jinx would carry on.
The German side that stepped out onto the Olympiastadion turf was arguably the strongest available; recalled striker Mario Gómez made a start ahead of a talented midfield unit, and there was a new look to the back four with Antonio Rudiger coming in a full back for the injured Jérôme Boateng and Emre Can being slotted into the troublesome right-back slot. With skipper Bastian Schweinsteiger also ruled out after sustaining an injury in training, Sami Khedira stepped into the breach.
While many will argue that the game was “just a friendly”, it is clear that many German fans were not pleased by what was a disjointed and at times clueless display against an England side that played a simple but highly effective game. Even a two-goal lead was not enough, and one could sense that something was in the offing as soon as Harry Kane’s brilliant twist and shot ended up in the back of the German net.
On an evening where both teams were wearing black armbands to mark the recent passing of Dutch legend Johan Cruyff, Kane’s move was arguably the perfect tribute. As the Germans wilted under the pressure, their young, fresh and enthusiastic opponents saw their opportunity to secure a stunning comeback.
The long winless record against England aside, Berlin has not been a very good place for the Nationalmannschaft in recent years. Their previous match in the German capital had seen them throw away an even bigger advantage against Sweden – I don’t think anybody needs to be reminded about that.
Facts and Stats
This was the thirtieth meeting between the two teams since the inaugural full professional contest in the German capital in 1930. In their twenty nine meetings since, Germany had claimed thirteen victories – including penalty shootouts at the 1990 World Cup and 1996 European Championships – against England’s twelve.
The biggest statistic, however, was Germany’s dismal record in Berlin. The Nationalmannschaft had failed to register a single victory, and while they had over the years had turned Wembley into a second home England had done much the same at the Olympiastadion.
Coming on a replacement for Mats Hummels at the start of the second half, Bayer 04 Leverkusen defender Jonathan Tah became the 87th player to make his international debut under the stewardship of Jogi Löw. Another milestone was achieved by VfL Wolfburg’s André Schürrle, who reach his half-century of international appearances when he came on for Marco Reus midway through the second half.
Right from the start, it was clear that England were not going to be rolled over lightly by the more experienced German team. They were quick to chase every ball and force the home side into making mistakes, and while Löw’s men were able to get away with this in the fast half they were duly punished in the second.
Roy Hodgson’s team created a number of half-chances in the first half, but for all their effort it was the home side that were more clinical. Gómez was unlucky to have had a well-taken goal ruled out for offside, but the home crowd wouldn’t have to wait long to see their team take the lead.
There was more than a whiff of fortune about the goal as Toni Kroos sent in a long-distance effort to beat a hobbling Jack Butland, but on the other hand it was the perfect example of clinical execution. With the ‘keeper unable to move effectively to cover his ground, Kroos’s speculative shot was enough to skid inside the unfortunate Butland’s near post.
The goal looked to have provided a spark for the home team, and having finished the first half brightly they started the second in similar vein. A perfectly floated cross into the England box was smartly finished by the excellent Gómez, and at that point it looked as though it was not a matter of if Germany would score a third, but when. Mesut Özil should have put things beyond doubt, but his scuffed shot would be the Mannschaft’s last real threat.
From that point on, it was all England. First came Kane’s fantastic twist and finish that split open the German defence, and then Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy levelled the scores with a world class finish just minutes after coming on as a substitute. Vardy’s marker Rüdiger was left looking like a lemon as the ball flew past Manuel Neuer, but in fairness even the absent Boateng would have struggled to prevent the striker’s smart backheeled flick finish.
When the ball was put behind for an England corner as the clock ticked into injury time, there was a sense of inevitability as it was swung back into the box. With the dishevelled German defence at sixes and sevens, the inability to defend set pieces again reared its ugly head. In this case, the head of fullback Eric Dier who emulated John Terry’s late winner the last time the two teams met in Berlin in 2008.
Conclusions and Ratings
Germany were two goals up inside the first hour, but in all fairness the scoreline had looked slightly lopsided. The Mannschaft had taken their chances, but England had been unlucky not to be on the board themselves. A number of errors had gone unpunished, and the enthusiasm and energy of their opponents had clearly disrupted the German passing game.
The errors continued into the second half, with Can looking distinctly uncomfortable at right-back and even experienced heads like Khedira being forced into making brainless mistakes. When England scored they quickly started to smell blood, and the confident German team that had held a comfortable lead quickly turned into a quivering mass – not a recent phenomenon. The enforced replacement of Hummels with debutant Tah at half-time didn’t help matters, of course.
While some excuses could be made for the defence, the same cannot be said for the midfield. Kroos’s goal offset what was an ordinary and at times lazy display, and after a solid start Khedira was also making mistakes. The usually busy Thomas Müller – tucked away out on the wing – was far from his usual self, and the energetic Reus was completely flat to the point of being anonymous.
The same could be said of Özil, who looked far from the player who had been presented with the German Player of the Year award before kick-off. The Arsenal playmaker has turned in far better displays in the Nationaltrikot, and his only contribution was two badly-hit efforts, one scuffed and the other shinned.
The attacking substitutes were not much better. Schürrle was ineffective in attack and was largely responsible for ball-watching at the crucial last-minute corner, Lukas Podolski did little more than add to his bloated collection of international caps, and the arrival of Mario Götze with ten minutes remaining was little more than pointless.
With ‘keeper Manuel Neuer also having a slightly iffy evening, the only player worth his salt was Gómez. Having fought to win his place back in the starting lineup, the former VfB Stuttgart and FC Bayern München striker looks to have put the last two injury-ridden seasons behind him.
We can only hope for a better display against Italy.
The German ‘keeper was unable to prevent any of the three England goals and also made a good reflex save with his leg, but even he looked less than his usual confident self. Had a nervy start, and will be looking to have a far less porous back line in front of him next time out.
Can is a talented player and has shown this for Liverpool this season, but he is not a right-back. Time and again he was caught out of position by his more nimble opponents, and a number of suspect passes didn’t help his cause. Started well enough, but faded badly in the second half as England started to dominate.
A solid enough display for the AS Roma man, who was unable to do anything to prevent Jamie Vardy’s fantastic finish. Showed plenty of pace, and is certainly worth persisting with in the absence of the much-missed Jérome Boateng.
Did his job effectively, closing down his opponents effectively and restricting them to speculative efforts. Was replaced at half-time by Jonathan Tah after taking a slight knock.
The 1. FC Köln man was solid at the back, but was less effective than usual going forward. England’s pace and positivity during the second half meant that Hector had little chance to be adventurous.
A mixed evening for the new skipper. Controlled as usual at the start, but like a number of others faded away badly in the second half. Sent in a lovely cross for Gomez’s goal, but was guilty of some bad errors as the game started to turn against his team.
Scored a well taken opportunistic goal, but offered little else besides. The Real Madrid man clearly struggles with defensive duties, and is languid approach is a better fit further up the pitch.
The worst display for a while from the FC Bayern Raumdeuter. Müller is usually right at the centre of the action, but here he was at best anonymous – strange for a player who is defined by his energy and field positioning. Didn’t have a sniff of a chance all evening, in complete contrast to his club form. Capped off the perfect evening by being replaced by Lukas Podolski.
Received the Player of the Year award during the pre-match festivities, but hardly lived up to the billing. Only really showed up at set-pieces – which didn’t really amount to much – and should have done a lot better with two opportunities in front of goal. At best, it was a lethargic display from the much-fêted playmaker.
Another talented player who looked as though he wanted to be someplace else. Sent in one teasing free-kick, but apart from that was far from his usual energetic self. Made way for André Schürrle just after the hour mark, and nobody really noticed the difference.
If everybody else around him played to even half of their potential and billing, Gómez could have walked off the pitch with more than just his one goal. Had one effort wrongly chalked off in the first half, but looked to be back to his best with a fine header to double Germany’s lead in the second half. Was replaced by Mario Götze ten minutes from the end.
Replaced the injured Hummels at half-time, and as debuts go was decent enough. The tall and powerful Leverkusen is clearly one for the future.
Replaced the ineffective Reus after sixty-four minutes, and was just as ineffective. Was found ball-watching at the end when beaten by Eric Dier for England’s winner.
Podolski’s place in the squad, let alone his coming on as a late substitute for Thomas Müller, remains a mystery. A once great player, his time is surely past – but then maybe the Maharishi Jogi knows something we don’t. If Podolski can roll back the years and repeat his heroics of 2006 in 2016, I will happily eat my hat.
The World Cup final hero has hardly figured for club side FC Bayern this season, and his coming on for Gómez with ten minutes remaining could best be described as an act of kindness by the coach. Either way, his presence on the pitch made little difference to the eventual outcome.
Neuer (3), Can (4), Rüdiger (5), Hummels (3), Hector (3), Kroos (3), Khedira (4), Müller (4), Özil (5), Reus (5), Gómez (3). Substitutes (until 75 minutes): Tah (4), Schürrle (5), Podolski (4)
Neuer (3), Can (5), Rüdiger (5), Hummels (3), Hector (4), Kroos (3), Khedira (4), Müller (4.5), Özil (4.5), Reus (5), Gómez (2.5). Substitutes: Tah (4.5)
Neuer (3), Can (5), Rüdiger (4), Hummels (3), Hector (4), Kroos (4), Khedira (4), Müller (5), Özil (5), Reus (5), Gómez (2). Substitutes: Tah (4), Schürrle (5), Podolski (5)