Germany 4 England 1
Germany: Neuer; Lahm, Mertesacker, Friedrich, Boateng; Schweinsteiger, Khedira; Muller (Trochowski 72), Ozil (Kiessling 83), Podolski; Klose (Gomez 72)
England: James; Johnson (Wright-Phillips 87), Terry, Upson, A. Cole; Milner (J. Cole 63), Barry, Lampard, Gerrard; Rooney, Defoe (Heskey 71)
A game between two teams at opposite ends of the footballing spectrum ended with Germany inflicting a crushing 4-1 defeat on an insipid England side that looked completely out of its depth when confronted with some excellent football from Die Mannschaft.
For England this could be a watershed moment in their recent history, a complete lack of technical prowess and defensive acumen laying bare the multitudinous flaws in Fabio Capello’s team. Crumbling in the face of threatening counter-attacking football, England were exposed as a tactically outdated team simply incapable of dealing with, amongst other things, long-balls, overlapping full-backs and a deep-lying play-makers. A radical shake-up of the national team could well be on the horizon.
Capello sticks with 4-4-2
With his team having mustered something approaching an acceptable performance against Slovenia in the final group game, Capello kept faith in the same personnel, again setting his team up in a straightforward 4-4-2 with James Milner and Steven Gerrard on the right and left flanks respectively and Jermain Defoe partnering Wayne Rooney in attack.
Low, meanwhile, made one alteration to his starting eleven, Miroslav Klose returning from suspension to replace Cacau up front, with Jerome Boateng and Bastian Schweinsteiger shaking off injury concerns to take their place in a side that lined up in an expansive 4-2-3-1.
German intelligence, English naivety
This is clearly an immensely talented group of German players, but they were hardly tested by and England team that defended in an amateurish fashion throughout the game. Mesut Ozil, once again, was the creative heart of his team, flummoxing a naive English back four with his movement and ability to bring others into play.
The technical prowess of the Werder Bremen midfielder, playing as a classic “number 10”, saw him shake off the attentions of Gareth Barry with ease and drift into the space between the defence and midfield, drawing John Terry and Matthew Upson out of position and opening up huge gaps through the centre of the field. With the England defence playing with an inexplicable amount of width, the slick passing and movement of the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira and Ozil saw the German wide players able to exploit the space by cutting inside or linking up with Klose.
Although the German players demonstrated the far greater technical ability throughout the game, the 4-4-2 adopted by Capello hardly helped England deal with their superior opponents.
Low’s side always had the extra man in midfield, with Klose and Ozil free to pull the abysmal centre-halves (for an example of just how poor they were see the first goal) out of position and at least one German midfielder free to have time on the ball at any given moment due to the simple numerical advantage they had in the centre of the field. This left Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard completely overrun and caught in two minds as to whether to track or close down, the confusion resulting in a hugely disorganised performance from Capello’s side.
However, arguably the worst element of England’s performance was their total inability to defend German counter-attacks. Low’s team deserve a great deal of credit for their speed and incision when the English were caught up field, but equally Capello’s players looked completely hapless, outpaced and out-thought by their German counterparts.
Indeed, Germany’s third and fourth goals, both courtesy of the superb Thomas Muller, came as a direct result of England losing possession from an attacking set-piece and getting caught-out with inadequate defensive cover to protect from the pace and vision of their opponents.
Lessons to learn
If there is anything positive that England fans can take from this game – and I have to say the list is looking a little on the short side – it is that this game could instigate a change in the way the team approaches future tournaments.
This group of players and this system have proved to be highly ineffective at the top level, physicality and “passion” have, as if it was any sort of surprise, been shown to be completely useless when up against teams that are simply technically better. England urgently need to discard their almost willful tactical luddism and become far more aware and intelligent on the field. If such an ethos cannot be ingrained in the current generation of players then the FA must make sure that the age group teams are schooled in a far more astute manner of playing if the country is to have any future success at the highest level.
As for Germany, Low’s gifted young side progress to the last eight, seemingly getting stronger as the tournament progresses and slowly establishing themselves as a real contender for the title. Their quarter-final clash with Diego Maradona’s Argentina at Green Point Stadium should be a game to relish.