The first international action of 2017 sees Germany take on England, almost a year after the last meeting between the two teams in Berlin’s Olympiastadion. On that evening Joachim Löw’s side would throw away a two goal lead as their hoodoo in the German capital continued – a good reason for playing this one in Dortmund, a ground that has been something of a fortress for the Mannschaft in recent years.
This is Germany’s thirty-fifth meeting against the Three Lions, and in the previous thirty-four they have won fourteen (including two penalty shootouts), drawn four and lost eighteen. While German teams have held the whip hand over England in competitive internationals, their record in friendlies is not great – as is their record at home in the fixture. The Mannschaft have played twenty-two friendlies – winning only seven of them – while they have not beaten England at home since a 3-1 win in Düsseldorf in 1987.
Since the last meeting in Berlin, both teams have had contrasting fortunes. Germany would make the semi-finals of Euro 2016 and have made a bright start to their World Cup qualifying campaign, while England had a disaster in France when they were eliminated by Iceland in the second phase.
England’s problems were not just on the pitch, but off it and behind the scenes too. Coach Roy Hodgson was replaced after the Euros by Sam Allardyce, who only lasted one match before being forced to resign following a corruption scandal. Allardyce was in turn replaced by Gareth Southgate, best known in Germany for missing the crucial penalty in the semi-final of Euro 96.
While Germany are looking to fine-tune their line-up with an eye on Russia 2018, England are a team in transition.
For German fans, the game will be most notable for it being Lukas Podolski’s final match in the Nationaltrikot. Since his debut in the Schwarz und Weiß as a teenager in 2004, “Poldi” has played 129 times for the German team, more than playing his part in six major tournaments. Having exploded onto the scene as the best young player in the 2006 World Cup, Podolski has gone on to be the Mannschaft’s third-highest goal scorer of all time with 48 goals.
For his final international match, Podolski is set to wear the captain’s armband. Of the starting eleven, only three are World Cup winners: Podolski, Kroos and Hummels. He is also the last of the “Class of 2006” to call time on his international career.
At the other end of the career scale, RB Leipzig’s Timo Werner is set to make his debut. The twenty-one year old striker has been a revelation for the Bundesliga new boys since moving from VfB Stuttgart in the summer, and he is the first player from the Eastern German club to play at full international level.
As is the fashion these days, a number of players in the twenty-three man squad have been deemed unfit to start this friendly match. Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer was the first to withdraw, followed by Mesut Özil, Julian Draxler, Mario Gómez and Sami Khedira. All five are expected to be fit for the World Cup qualifier against Azerbaijan in Baku, played later in the week.
In Neuer’s absence, Barcelona’s Marc-André ter Stegen takes his place between the sticks, with a back four consisting of Joshua Kimmich, Antonio Rüdiger, Mats Hummels and Jonas Hector. Toni Kroos teams up with Dortmund youngster Julian Weigl in the defensive midfield, while skipper Podolski is joined by Leroy Sané and Julian Brandt further up the pitch with Werner up front.
It is a dry and cool evening at the
Signal Iduna Park Westfalenstadion, and in spite of the occaision there are a number of empty seats. A number of German fans are holding signs dedicated to the departing Podolski, and a large banner in front of the (seated) Gelbe Wand reads “130 games, 48 goals. A legend. Thank you Lukas.” Both teams make their way onto the pitch, and after a short speech Podolski is giving a rousing sendoff by the crowd. Sadly, the ITV studio team respond to the presentation ceremony like bored children. Rather than join in the respect to a long-serving player who has made friends on and off the pitch, Mark Pougatch and his studio guests provide a masterclass in boorishness. To think that we will have to put up with the truly awful Clive Tyldesley too in a few minutes.
130 games. 48 goals (later 49). Legend. Danke Lukas!
As usual, there’s the standard moronic response to the Nationalhymne by the visiting England “supporters”. Though like their team in tournament finals, they run out of puff partway through. It is no doubt the prelude to more monotonous droning about the Second World War.
1 min. England get things underway, kitted out in an all-new outfit described as “midnight blue”. Germany are in their usual traditional colours of white shirts, black shirts and white socks.
4 mins. England have started brightly, and are chasing every ball.
6 mins. The visitors are continuing to tackle hard and create pressure. Dele Alli looks to send Jamie Vardy through, and the Leicester City striker takes a massive dive as ter Stegen taps the ball away from him. From the resulting corner, debutant Michael Keane has a sight of goal but sends his shot over the crossbar.
10 mins. The Mannschaft are struggling to establish themselves, and it has been all England so far. The visitors are pressing well, and allowing the hosts little time on the ball.
15 mins. More of the same. Germany are still trying to get their passing game going, England are still pressing. Some messy play from the home side who are being forced into making errors, and it looks like England have got a couple of extra men on the pitch at the moment.
16 mins. Germany make a thrust forward, Podolski gets a sight of goal, and thrashes a left-footed shot which strikes Keane. England clear.
18 mins. Hummels looks for Kimmich with a long ball into the England box, Sané tries to chase it down, but England ‘keeper Joe Hart swallows it up.
21 mins. It finally looks as though Jogi Löw’s side are settling down. It’s all still very cagey though.
25 mins. England win a corner out on the right, and Germany’s defending is not the best. England fullback Eric Dier is there first, but he cannot get enough power on his header and ter Stegen collects.
27 mins. Keane sends Alli down the right, and the Spurs man makes it first to the byline ahead of Hector. He sends a cross into the German box, but Rüdiger clears with a spectacular diving header. Dier goes in heavily on Weigl, who has to go off the pitch for treatment.
30 mins. Weigl is back on. After looking like they were starting to establish a foothold, Germany are playing second fiddle again. They cannot string more than a couple of passes together at the moment, and while England haven’t managed to create any clear opportunities they are showing far more ambition in the final third.
31 mins. A loose ball from Kimmich is seized upon by Adam Lallana, who avoids Rüdiger’s sliding challenge before accelerating away down the left. Kimmich tries to make up the ground but cannot get there, and Lallana zeroes in on the target. He beats ter Stegen with a low shot, which cannons off the far post. The rebound is fortunate for Germany, who clear their lines.
35 mins. Germany are unable to match England’s ambitious pressing, and are continually giving the ball away. There are too many loose passes, and the coach will surely be having a few words at half-time. Meanwhile, the England “fans” have found their voice. “Ten German Bombers”. Yawn. Top marks again for complete lack of originality.
36 mins. Brandt finally gets some space out on the right, but his two crosses are blocked. One looks close to being handball by Gary Cahill. Looking at the replay, it is a clear penalty. The England skipper keeps his arms close to his chest, but sneakily leans forward and twists his body to effect the block.
37 mins. A Hart-stopping moment for the England ‘keeper, who dallies on the ball and is almost robbed by Werner.
40 mins. Alli cannot get to the ball, runs into Rüdiger and takes a tumble to win a smart free-kick some twenty yards out. Dier lifts it over the wall, but also over the crossbar.
41 mins. The ball is given away again, and Vardy’s pass puts Alli clean through on goal. He has the goal at his mercy, but ter Stegen stands firm to make the save. That was an excellent chance, but the Barcelona ‘keeper did well to keep that out.
42 mins. Another poor clearance, this time by Rüdiger, presents Alli with a half chance from distance. He takes the shot, which floats high over the target.
45 mins. Finally the Mannschaft put a few passes together, but are unable to fashion anything credible. Weigl launches and effort from distance, but the ball flies high over the target and into the crowd. The whistle is blown for half-time.
England have come out with a plan and have shown plenty of ambition with a solid pressing game, but Germany have looked far from their usual smooth best. The lack of the usual creative stars is clearly missing, and it is showing pretty badly. Leroy Sané has tried to make a few breaks down the left with little joy, Julian Brandt has only really had a sniff of the ball out on the right, and apart from one moment where he could have robbed Joe Hart, debutant Timo Werner is been completely anonymous.
The defence has been put under immense pressure, and there have been far too many loose balls. England have been excellent, but Germany will be hard pressed to produce another forty-five minutes as bad as that. The problem is clearly tactical, and hopefully a few tweaks from the coach will put things right. Could this be the time to bring on Thomas Müller?
46 mins. Germany start the second half.
48 mins. Kroos and Sané look to create something down the left, and Germany win a corner. The kick is punched away by Hart, but only as far as Brandt who lets fly from the edge of the D with a well-struck left-footed effort which skids just wide of the left upright before crashing into the advertising hoardings.
51 mins. Lallana makes a run down the right and floats into the box towards Vardy, but Rüdiger puts it behind for a corner. Ryan Bertrand’s kick is poor however, and the Mannschaft clear.
53 mins. At the other end, there’s a half chance for Alli but he cannot get a decent contact on the ball.
54 mins. Out of nothing, Kroos dinks the ball beautifully over the retreating blue line, and Podolski almost gets on the end of it. A yard further forward, he would have smashed it in on the volley. Moments later Podolski wins a corner, but once again the kick is poor. Podolski is just out there going through the motions tonight. He wants to make something happen.
55 mins. Chances are being created now, and ter Stegen is forced into making a flying save to deny Vardy. The ball could have gone anywhere, but luck is with the home side who clear.
56 mins. Kimmch lifts the ball into the England box towards Sané, but the winger’s header is weak and directed straight at Hart.
58 mins. Cahill clips Podolski and Germany win a free-kick. In a tournament that may have been a yellow card, but this time referee Damir Skomina gives Cahill a short and sharp lecture.
59 mins. The Mannschaft make their first change of the evening, with Brandt making way for André Schürrle. England have a corner which is delivered teasingly into the box, and again the German defence are at sixes and sevens. Somehow, England are unable to get a clear shot on goal and the danger is cleared.
60 mins. Schürrle is quick into the fray. He charges down the right and cuts inside, but cannot get enough bend on his left-footed shot which flies wide. The home side have been a whole lot better in the second half, and there is an end-to-end feel about the game now. Still way too many errors, but a whole lot better than in the first half.
63 mins. Alli combines nicely with Lallana who makes a smart run into the box, but the Liverpool man is foiled by Hummels before he get the cross inside to Vardy. The corner comes to nothing, and Germany clear.
65 mins. Schürrle goes down at the edge of the England penalty area, and the referee waves play on.
66 mins. Changes for both sides now. Nathan Redmond is on for Lallana as Gareth Southgate makes his first change, and Emre Can is on for Weigl.
69 mins. It had to be. The men in white make their way up the pitch with a series of swift passes, and there’s a neat interchange between Kroos and Schürrle, who finds Podolski. The skipper takes a jink inside, settles himself and lashes an absolute screamer into the top right-hand corner. That was from close to thirty yards. Unerring, leaving Hart no chance whatsoever. Was für ein Tor! 1-0.
Boom! England ‘keeper Joe Hart is helpless as Podolski’s shot flies into the top right corner
71 mins. Two changes for England. Marcus Rashford is on for Vardy, and Jesse Lingard replaces Alli.
73 mins. Keane is robbed by Sané, who charges towards goal. Timo Werner is in space to his right, but Sané takes the shot, drilling it low to Hart’s left. The keeper makes a great save, but a pass there might have made it 2-0.
77 mins. Werner’s debut comes to an end, and Thomas Müller comes on.
81 mins. Germany finally look to have got their passing game going, and put together what feels like a million passes in a spell lasting almost two minutes. Müller looks to break the England line and find Sané, but the Manchester city winger is caught offside.
84 mins. The changes off both benches are coming thick and fast now. Two more for England, as James Ward-Prowse and Luke Shaw replace Jake Livermore and Ryan Bertrand. Then there’s a loud roar for Lukas Podolski, who has the stage set for his final farewell. The theme from the film Gladiator is playing as Poldi makes his way off the pitch, and Sebastian Rudy comes on. What a send-off.
85 mins. The effervescent Sané makes a jinking run into the box, Müller has a potshot, and Hart collects. England make another change, as John Stones replaces Chris Smalling.
88 mins. Hector finally finds some space behind the England defence, and Schürrle’s smoothly executed shot skids narrowly wide of the target. There was a slight deflection of Stones and Germany are awarded a corner. The kick comes to nothing, and England clear.
89 mins. Rüdiger is put in a bit of a tight spot inside his own penalty area, but the Roma man keeps his head and punts the ball to safety.
90+1 mins. A lovely move as Kimmich and Can work their way down the right. Can picks out the fast-moving Sané, who gets a shot in. Moments later the big-haired winger looks to weave his way through a crowd of blue shirts, and wins the corner. The men in white take their time, now looking to run down the clock.
90+3 mins. The final whistle is blown.
Germany were poor for long spells, England were arguably the more impressive team over the ninety minutes, but ultimately the evening would belong to one man. The script was perfectly written for Lukas Podolski, who signed off on his international career with a cracking goal. Truly, this was a fairy tale ending.
Germany will have better games, but their home hex against England is finally broken after almost thirty years. When Wolfram Wuttke unleashed a long-distance effort to beat Peter Shilton at the Rheinstadion all those years ago, only one of the German players out on the pitch in Dortmund had been born: Lukas Podolski. The Kölner is milking the applause from the crowd, and is being given the bumps by his team mates. I don’t think the story could have been planned any better.
While the evening rightly belongs to Podolski, the German team have now gone 648 minutes without conceding a goal – a record. The last time any other team found the back of the German net was at Euro 2016, when France’s Antoine Griezmann scored for France in the semi-final.
v England, Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund, 22.03.2017
Podolski 69. / –
Germany: ter Stegen – Kimmich, Rüdiger, Hummels, Hector – Weigl (66. Can), Kroos – Brandt (59. Schürrle), Podolski (c) (84. Rudy), Sané – Werner* (77. Müller)
England: Hart – Keane, Smalling (85. Stones), Cahill (c) – Walker, Livermore (82. Ward-Prowse), Dier, Bertrand (83. Shaw) – Lallana (65. Redmond), Alli (71. Lingard) – Vardy (71. Rashford)
Referee: Damir Skomina (Slovenia)
Assistants: Jure Praprotnik (Slovenia), Robert Vukan (Slovenia)
Fourth Official: Matej Jug (Slovenia)
Yellow Cards: – / –
Red Cards: – / –
Ball Possession: 48% / 52%
Attempts on Target: 7 / 5
Attempts off Target: 5 / 4
Corners: 4 / 7
Fouls Committed: 7 / 9
* International Debut