In the summer of 2009, England and Germany faced off in the final of the UEFA European Under-21 Championship. The two sides had met earlier in the competition and had drawn 1-1. The Germans ended up routing the Stuart Pearce-led English side 4-0. Out of the players in that 2009 German U-21 squad*, six of them are starters for the German World Cup 2014 team. And most, if not all six, will play in the World Cup semi-final on Tuesday against Brazil.
Out of the England squad that faced Germany in that same 2009 U-21 final, only one player made it into England’s World Cup squad for 2014.
England bombed out of its World Cup, finishing last in its group.
The starting XI from both sides in that 2009 match is as follows:
Following the success of this tournament, Ӧzil and Boateng were quickly integrated into the senior national team setup. Both featured in a critical away qualifier in Russia that October, a win that clinched Germany’s passage to World Cup 2010. Neuer eventually was integrated before the 2010 World Cup, and started Germany’s six matches prior to the third-place game. Sami Khedira replaced the injured Michael Ballack during the World Cup in midfield and was so impressive that he secured a transfer to Real Madrid. Howedes and Hummels have since become Germany regulars while Beck was one of the last cuts from the 2010 team. Boenisch, a dual German-Polish national, started all three matches in the Euro 2012 tournament for Poland. Johnson, a dual German-American national, switched to the United States in 2011 and started all four games for the USA in this World Cup.
By contrast, England were slow to integrate their youngsters. Walcott had played a critical role in World Cup qualifying in 2009 but was omitted from the 2010 World Cup squad. Milner started England’s opening game of the 2010 World Cup against the United States but was being run over by Steve Cherundolo and was removed around minute 30. Milner made the 2014 squad but had a minimal impact. Adam Johnson was strongly considered by Fabio Capello for the 2010 team but his club career has since been on the rocks and he is off the England radar now. Richards and Onuoha both saw their Manchester City careers peak around the time of this competition and neither is anywhere near the England setup today. Muamba tragically had to quit soccer after collapsing in an FA Cup match in 2012, but at the time was nowhere near the England side. Cattermole is a player whose recklessness and lack of discipline have been greatly ridiculed. Gibbs is an often-injured left-back who has never really factored in the England picture except in isolated spots.
The English have made a habit of selecting sides based on reputation, club form and sometimes based on media pressure. Immediate results, even in friendlies, are over-emphasized while any bad result inevitably leads to the sort of inquest that then forces a manager to stick with established players.
On the other hand, Germany has a clear national system in place and a conveyor belt of players coming through a system that is expected to be tapped for the full national team at the earliest date possible. This is not without controversy as some of the most established Bundesliga stars have been marginalized at the apex of their careers for youth, but it has thus far worked out well for the Germans.
The difference in approaches and success could not be more apparent.
* While six of the German team from the 2009 U-21 squad are playing in the 2014 World Cup for Germany, an additional two players are in the World Cup. Fabian Johnson now plays for the United States, while Ashkan Dejagah plays for Iran.