It’s a dry but slightly chilly evening in North-West London, with England taking on a German side described by many as a B-Team in front of a crowd of just under eighty-six thousand. The home team are in their white and very navy blue kit which looks a little like the Mannschaft’s 1974 classic, while Joachim Löw’s side are in their change colours of green and white – the last outing for this current Auswärtsrikot.
This particular incarnation of the Lindengrün has been more than a little unlucky over the past couple of years, but the colour has a good record at Wembley with the Germans winning 3-1 in 1972, 2-1 in 1982 and 1-0 in 1991.
Following their two-goal defeat to Chile four days earlier Roy Hodgson’s England side will be looking to finish the year on a good note and claim their first home win over Germany since 1975; the Germans meanwhile will have their eyes on adding to their five-game unbeaten run at a ground that has become something of a home from home.
In line with his mission to try and test the entire squad, the Nationaltrainer’s raft of changes from the starting eleven that faced Italy on Friday sees debutant Borussia Dortmund ‘keeper Roman Weidenfeller replace Manuel Neuer between the sticks, behind a rearranged back four including HSV’s Heiko Westermann and the recalled Per Mertesacker, who takes the captain’s armband. The defensive midfield spine has a new look with Bender twins Lars and Sven, who sit behind a talented offensive line with three of the Mannschaft’s young talents Marco Reus, Toni Kroos and Mario Götze. Leading the line is another young hopeful, Borussia Mönchengladbach’s roving winger-cum-striker Max Kruse.
This may well be a B-Team, but it is one hell of a B-Team.
The playing of the national anthems sees some sections of the home ground indulge in the almost obligatory booing of the Nationalhymne, but the few German fans in the crowd are in good voice.
1 min. England get things under way.
2 mins. The home side have started brightly, and much of the early play is taking place in the German half. Winger Andros Townsend looks to have settled already with a couple of breezy runs down the right flank.
5 mins. The green-shirted Mannschaft finally get a little time in the opposition half, but England are showing plenty of enthusiasm in challenging for every ball.
10 mins. Joachim Löw’s side looks to have settled down after the frenetic start by the home side, but there is little to talk about so far in terms of going forward.
12 mins. Germany cannot keep the ball at the moment, and England are maintaining the pressure on. Townsend cannot quite find Adam Lallana just outside the box, and Germany clear.
13 mins. Germany win a free kick inside the England half out on the left, and Reus’s curling effort is met by the stretching Westermann, who heads the ball high and wide of the target.
19 mins. Germany are giving the ball away cheaply, and far too often. There is something lacking in the midfield, where both Götze and Kroos have been completely anonymous.
20 mins. Another promising-looking attack from England, and Wayne Rooney heads a tough chance over the crossbar.
25 mins. Finally, some pressure being exerted by the men in green. They haven’t fashioned anything close to a genuine chance yet, though. I’d quite fancy a long-distance pop at Joe Hart in the England goal.
27 mins. Germany’s midfield game is summed up by an awful pass by Toni Kroos, who gives the ball away when in a decent position in the England half. it’s all getting a little bit scrappy at the moment.
30 mins. England are retaining possession well, and appear to be winning every 50/50 ball. The German defence are again put under pressure, and Jérôme Boateng gives away a corner which Mertesacker clears.
31 mins. The home side win another corner, which asks too much of Phil Jagielka at the far post.
34 mins. Cleverley finds Daniel Sturridge with a lovely ball down the right, but the pacy winger steps on the ball. Boateng pounces, keeps his head, and clears the danger.
37 mins. Götze has an opportunity to make ground down the right, but gives the ball away under pressure from Steven Gerrard before looking rather sheepishly at the assistant on the touchline.
38 mins. Lars Bender shows great strength to stay on his feet, and makes his way into box to win a corner. Kroos’s kick is met by Mertesacker, whose firm is header is brilliantly kept out by Hart.
39 mins. Germany keep the pressure on. Westermann has another headed effort which is half-cleared, and Kroos dinks in the cutest of crosses to again find Mertesacker. This time the big centre-back makes no mistake, as he slips past Chris Smalling and rises above Cleverley to send the perfect glancing header into the left side of the net. 1-0.
43 mins. Lallana has the ball in the German box, but Boateng is there to meet him with a perfectly-timed challenge.
44 mins. Steven Gerrard finds space outside the German penalty area to send in a well-struck right-footed shot, which doesn’t quite dip enough to threaten Roman Weidenfeller.
45+1 mins. Germany end the half on the attack, and the whistle is blown.
In a half where England have looked the more threatening of the two sides, Germany have the lead. Having been under the cosh at the start and been forced to backtrack by the pacy and committed play their opponents, Joachim Löw’s side have taken advantage of their one really decent spell and come away with a well-taken goal.
I can hear the moans now: “typical Germany”. In truth, for all England’s efforts the German defence has done its job, with ‘keeper Weidenfeller having a fair easy forty-five minutes. Of the back four, Boateng has been the most impressive. More of the same, and we’ll see another win here.
The teams emerge from the tunnel for the second half, and there are two changes in the Germany back four – straight swaps with Boateng being replaced by Mats Hummels and Marcel Schmelzer making way for Marcell Jansen.
46 mins. As in the first half, England are on the attack immediately. Jansen is called into action straight away as he challenges Townsend at the expense of a corner.
47 mins. There are a few nervy moments as England have the ball in the German box, but the danger is eventually cleared by Hummels.
48 mins. Max Kruse finds some space just outside the England box, but instead of releasing a team-mate has a shot that balloons high and not particularly handsomely into Row Z.
49 mins. Götze shows those famous dancing feet, and skips past three defenders. The ball breaks off Jagielka to Reus, whose crisp right-footed effort is well blocked by Hart. England immediately make their way to the other end of the pitch, and threaten briefly before Hummels clears under pressure from Lallana.
50 mins. End to end stuff at the moment, and Kruse this time finds Reus in space out on the left. Rather than going alone the Borussia Dortmund man cuts inside and send a pass back to Kruse. Unfortunately, the Borussia Mönchengladbach man hasn’t kept up with the pace, and Jagielka clears.
52 mins. It’s the first substitution for England, with Kieran Gibbs coming on for Ashley Cole.
54 mins. Some lovely play from the Mannschaft now, as they follow some crisp close passes with expansive cross-field balls. They win another corner, and Mertesacker heads over the bar while his marker tries to swap shirts early.
56 mins. Jogi Löw makes his third change, as Kruse makes way for Bayer Leverkusen’s Sidney Sam. Meanwhile England coach Hodgson makes his second change, replacing skipper Gerrard with Liverpool team mate Jordan Henderson.
57 mins. A fantastic long-range effort from Townsend, who crashes the ball against the outside of Weidenfeller’s right-post with the diving Weidenfeller beaten.
60 mins. It’s been a mad quarter of an hour. Half-chances for both sides, England hitting the post, and play swinging from end to end. It’s just a little quieter now as the Germans consolidate with a little keep-ball.
63 mins. After a few minutes of gentle tiki-täka it’s back to the wall time again for the Mannschaft, who remain solid. As the action swings to the other side of the field, Hart comes charging out of his area, and only succeeds in bundling over his own centre-half. Luckily for England, the danger is cleared.
64 mins. Jack Wilshere replaces Cleverley for England.
65 mins. Götze and Sam exchange passes beautifully, and the Bayern youngster stabs a well-directed angled shot that is brilliantly parried by Hart.
66 mins. Hummels looks slightly wobbly, and his short spell on the pitch ends with his replacement by Benedikt Höwedes. There’s also another change as Julian Draxler comes on for Westermann.
68 mins. Germany are showing some of that sharp attacking quality again. This time Draxler and Götze link up nicely, and Sam dinks the ball over Hart but unluckily also over the crossbar. The much-criticised Hart is keeping his side in the game here, and did well to close in on the Leverkusen winger.
69 mins. Now a chance at the other end, as Weidenfeller beats Sturridge to the ball after a fine pass from Wayne Rooney.
71 mins. After a somewhat anonymous evening, Rooney is replaced by Everton’s Ross Barkley.
73 mins. Gibbs send a cross into the German box from the left, but Höwedes clears.
75 mins. There are a few cheers from the small German contingent in the crowd now as the Mannschaft once again try to slow things down a little. The move comes to an abrupt end with a foul on Reus, and the break in play sees Rickie Lambert replace club colleague Lallana.
77 mins. A German move comes to nothing and England break. Barkley finds Townsend who in turn tries to send Sturridge through on goal, but Jansen intercepts. It has been an impressive showing by the HSV left-back.
79 mins. Kyle Walker bursts down the right, and wins a corner which is easily cleared by the solid-looking German defence.
80 mins. Real pressure now from England with three corners in the space of two minutes. Weidenfeller isn’t threatened, but Chris Smalling could arguably have done better with an attempted header at the far post.
82 mins. It’s another change for the Mannschaft, as André Schürrle makes his way out onto the pitch in place of Reus.
84 mins. The home crowd has gone quiet now, as the visitors are keeping the ball well. Sam picks our Schürrle whose shot cannons off an England foot towards Hart, who is challenged by Draxler. The French referee signals for a free kick to the home side.
86 mins. Sturridge wins another corner for Roy Hodgson’s side as Jansen clears under pressure.
87 mins. The impressive Sam finds his former Leverkusen team mate Schürrle with a timely first-time pass inside on the right, but the Chelsea winger is narrowly flagged for offside.
89 mins. There are some neat interchanges between Götze and Draxler, and as soon as Sam gets a sight of goal he sends an ugly effort high and wide of the target.
90 mins. Germany combine well again in midfield, and Götze wins a late corner out on the right.
90+2 mins. There’s more keep ball by the corner flag by the men in green as they attempt to wind down the clock. The assistant on the touchline has signalled four minutes of additional time.
90+3 mins. Townsend, England’s best player on the night, had a speculative effort from distance that flies wide of the target.
90+4 mins. Germany win a free-kick out on the left as Götze is clipped. Just seconds separate Germany from yet another win at Wembley – their sixth on the trot. The final whistle is blown.
The year ends with a highly satisfactory win, one achieved with what had been described as a B-team. There would be a few hairy moments in what a competitive but clean encounter, but while England were the more energetic of the two teams Joachim Löw’s side would create the better chances. While the Mannschaft would have eight shots on target and force England ‘keeper Joe Hart into making some world-class saves, debutant Roman Weidenfeller would have no such problems in the German goal.
Germany’s defence has been criticised in recent months by a number of commentators – including myself – but the fact that England would not test Weidenfeller at all would be telling. Per Mertesacker and Jérôme Boateng would look solid with the Bayern man being particularly impressive, and Boateng’s replacement Mats Hummels would turn out an equally satisfactory display before being replaced prematurely.
After a sluggish start, Germany would slowly crank things up without ever hitting second gear – not that they really needed to. The impressive Toni Kroos would boss the midfield and win the man of the match award, substitute Sidney Sam would provide additional speed and movement to the midfield, and Mertesacker would round off an impressive captain’s display with a well-taken goal that would prove to be decisive.
Wembley Stadium, Wembley, 19.11.2013
Mertesacker 39. / –
Germany: Weidenfeller* – Westermann (66. Draxler), Boateng (46. Hummels (66. Höwedes)), Mertesacker (c), Schmelzer (46. Jansen) – L. Bender, S. Bender – Götze, Kroos, Reus (82. Schürrle) – Kruse (56. Sam)
England: Hart – Walker, Smalling, Jagielka, A. Cole (52. Gibbs) – Cleverley (64. Wilshere), Gerrard (c) (56. Henderson) – Lallana (76. Lambert), Townsend – Rooney (71. Barkley) – Sturridge
Referee: Stéphane Lannoy (France)
Assistants: Frédéric Cano, Michael Annonier (France)
Fourth Official: Laurent Duhamel (France)
Yellow Cards: – / –
Red Cards: – / –
Attempts on Target: 8 / 2
Attempts off Target: 5 / 7
Corners: 6 / 11
Fouls Committed: 8 / 12
* Full International Debut