As far as friendly results go, the Germany 2-3 England match made quite an impression.
Two nil down after 58 minutes at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, playing the World Champions without their captain Wayne Rooney and starting goalkeeper Joe Hart, the Three Lions were left celebrating a night that Roy Hodgson called “my best with England.”
A win over Germany is to be savored for its rarity. The last time England beat their arch rival, John Terry and Wayne Bridge were both in the starting lineup against a German side that included Jermaine Jones – but it was much more the performance than the result that turned heads.
And it was a jaw-dropper. England grew into the game with astounding aplomb. They looked fresh, hungry, and undaunted – and despite the close score-line, Germany was thoroughly outplayed.
Said German manager Joachim Low, “It’s annoying as a coach when we lose after being 2-0 up, but you can’t say we didn’t deserve it.”
Glenn Hoddle rushed to declare the night England’s best since the famous 5-1 win over Germany in World Cup qualifying in 2001 – and while a friendly win can’t mean anything substantial on its own, this night will stand up as the turning point if England turn it into something bigger this summer and beyond.
It wasn’t that England won, or how they won, so much as it was who they won with.
There was new blood all over the field in Germany. Seven of England’s starters – and nine of the fourteen players they used – haven’t played a minute at a major tournament.
In a way, it showed. England played with an unusual sense of daring. It was – fittingly enough – a Cruyff turn that created Harry Kane’s goal, while Jamie Vardy took his chance with a fantastic back-heel.
Certainly, it’d be prudent to pay heed to Hodgson’s post-game pleas not to get carried away. This was just one game. England’s defense remains a major concern, and there was little pressure on Saturday like there will be this summer.
But players like Kane and his Tottenham teammates Eric Dier and Dele Alli aren’t going to be one-hit wonders. They’re going to form the nucleus of this team for the next decade.
In fact, England has young talent in almost every position. Nathaniel Clyne, John Stones, Chris Smalling, and Danny Rose in defense, Dier, Alli, Jack Wilshere, and Ross Barkley in midfield, Kane, Raheem Sterling, and others up top.
The likes of Joe Hart, Jordan Henderson, Danny Welbeck, Gary Cahill, James Milner, and Wayne Rooney are still around to provide stability. But more and more, it looks like they’ll be providing stability from the bench.
For the first time in many years, there’s real competition for every place in the team. The fact that there is a debate raging right now about Rooney’s chances of starting this summer is – if you looked at where England was as late as last year – mindboggling.
This is a boom.
It’s been a positive season in English club soccer for many reasons, but a major one is that the new blood atop the Premier League has deepened and refreshed the national team pool. Not coincidentally, Leicester City and Tottenham players bagged all three England goals against Germany. In particular, it’s the footballers from Spurs who are breathing fresh air into what was a tiring England squad.
It’s been more than a decade since England had so many top players emerging at once. The result should be a team going to France that is unrecognizable from the one that lasted two games at the 2014 World Cup.
This is going to be a fun team to watch. Hodgson bristled after the match on Saturday at his reputation as a conservative coach, and all evidence suggests that he’ll deploy an aggressive style in France. If anything, his sin in Brazil was playing too ambitiously.
He’ll most likely pick Rooney, but he’ll also pick plenty of kids – and in a tournament that is as wide open as we’ve seen a major championship in this century, anything could happen.
France looks formidable, but certainly not intimidating. The same can be said of a Germany team that has regressed from 2014, and a Spain team that hasn’t truly clicked in some time.
Italy and Portugal are shells of their former selves, while the world is still waiting for Belgium to live up to its considerable potential. England can play with and beat all of these teams. They should make a deep run.
Or perhaps they’ll flame out. After all, their last golden generation – comprised of the likes of Rooney, Lampard, Gerrard, and Terry – never lived up to the hype.
But that generation was dogged by chemistry problems. This one shouldn’t be. Tottenham footballers Dier, Alli, and Kane know each other inside and out – and a key mark of the Spanish and German sides that dominated European soccer in this decade was a core group of players hailing from the same club.
And while it hasn’t necessarily meant success in the past, but considering the struggles of many of the other contenders, it should be noted that England was the only side to win all ten of its games in qualifying.
Clearly, there is something big going on here. The national team usually labors under the crushing weight of inflated expectation. Not so right now. This looks like the side England has been waiting years for.
Against Germany, they played with a vigor and verve that had the entire country salivating – and if the footballing instincts of so many who watched them on Saturday are correct, it’s only going to get better from here.
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