Gareth Southgate’s men largely went through the motions in their narrow loss in Dortmund, with little of consequence coming from the exercise
It was meant to be an evening in which Gareth Southgate would learn something new about his England side, but instead the 1-0 loss to Germany in Dortmund was a big, fat damp squib.
Lukas Podolski’s bullet winner midway through the second half was completely out of keeping with the game itself, and for the Three Lions it felt like a missed opportunity to actually move forward as an international side under their new head coach.
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He may well start against Lithuania in Sunday’s World Cup qualifier at Wembley, but Marcus Rashford was given only 20 minutes to shine at Signal Iduna Park. Worse still, he was introduced just after Podolski had hammered home the winning goal and given Germany the opportunity to test out their containing game with what resembled a back eight. It all conspired to give the Manchester United youngster little of the space in which he thrives.
Instead of Rashford it was Jamie Vardy who was given the nod up front, and aside from his temerity to dive for a potential penalty there was little new on show from the Leicester striker than has already been deined about his game from previous England outings. Yes, he might have the more experienced head which would have been the right approach had this been a competitive international, but the 19-year-old will probably feel this was one opportunity he might have been afforded by his former under-21s boss.
It is not as though Rashford could have been rusty either, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s domestic suspension helping to give him more game time of late at club level. But we’re still none the wiser as to whether he could be the right man for England sooner rather than later.
To all intents and purposes England’s back three did a decent job in Dortmund, but in truth they were never really tested and Southgate will be none the wiser as to whether it might be the best formation to pit against a major nation at a more critical juncture.
With Jogi Low opting to send out an experimental-looking line-up, the Three Lions were asked few questions until Podolski let rip from range with the hosts’ first shot on target to settle the contest.
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Debutant Michael Keane looked largely composed on the right of the trio until making an error under rare pressure late on, Chris Smalling was rarely put under pressure in his fifth start in a back three in the past fortnight, while skipper for the night Gary Cahill has had few such quiet evenings even playing for a dominant Chelsea this season.
They could try the formation again on Sunday when Lithuania come to Wembley, but what would be the point? They are even less likely to attack than this unrecognisable Germany.
Just one year on from the last time they faced Germany, somebody thought it would be a good idea to play them again. Did we really take anything out of that 3-2 win in Berlin and use it against an Iceland side which took to their task in a far more inverted, opportunistic style? Of course not.
So why not widen the pool of friendly opponents? England only ever seem to play Germany, Italy, France, Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands in friendly fixtures these days, and we appear to be learning less and less about our international football with each non-competitive match that passes by. What ever happened to taking on other nations like Colombia or Uruguay, Poland or the United States?
The UEFA Nations League, which kicks in in September 2018, cannot come quick enough. While nobody seems to be able to adequately explain how the competition works, it will at least add a competitive element and rid us of these instantly forgettable friendly matches. And good riddance to them.
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We’d seen Dele Alli up against Germany just 12 months ago and discovered what he could do. Again in Dortmund he showed some good touches, but while his performance was largely positive he never really looked ready to take the game by the scruff on the neck and drag England into a winning position.
In a more intense environment the Tottenham youngster might have been better placed to really show his stuff but it was difficult for him to show his best in the testimonial air which surrounded Podolski’s final Germany appearance.
He’s been called the next Wayne Rooney and the most gifted England player since Paul Gascoigne, but whatever his future holds at this level this will not be a match which will feature on his highlight reel.
On a day which saw a terrorist attack claim a number of lives in the heart of London, England’s football fans did little to court international sympathy. Spending much of the match chanting “Have you ever seen the Germans win a war” and sing about “10 German bombers”, the followers of the Three Lions again showed how low they can stoop when representing their nation abroad. At the very moment tributes and messages of solidarity continued to pour in from across the globe, England supporters were busy booing and whistling through the German national anthem.
The England supporters’ band often does much to help raise the atmosphere at fixtures, but while they didn’t beat to the tune of some of the more questionable tomes emanating from the visitors’ section, neither did they attempt to drown out the vitriol. What will it take for authorities to start doing something about the vile approach to what is supposed to be backing a team of footballers?
Whether a majority or minority – and the noise level of the songs suggested it was the former – England fans need to display a sense of decorum at any time, but particularly on days like this one.