I don’t usually get too excited about England’s prospects at a major football tournament. I’m currently preparing a series of pages on the upcoming European Championships (held in France later this year), and I’m not exactly waxing lyrical about England. That being said, last night’s performance against world champions Germany was encouraging.
For one thing, we didn’t sit back and let the Germans dictate the tempo of the match. England pressed, constantly getting into the faces of the German players and denying them time on the ball. This pleasing (and uncharacteristic) approach from Roy Hodgson’s side saw us win the ball in dangerous positions and threaten more often.
The overall pace and energy of the team was much improved. Youngsters Dele Alli and Harry Kane both gave good accounts of themselves, as did Eric Dier, Nathaniel Clyne and Danny Rose. Their workrate was impressive and they weren’t phased by the occasion.
There are some caveats to all this. Germany fielded an experienced side but one that nonetheless isn’t necessarily their first choice team. They also didn’t play especially well, yet still took a two goal lead. They typically don’t perform brilliantly in friendlies – but even so, for England to come back from two nil down to win showed character and determination that has only been fleetingly witnessed across the past couple of decades. There was no Joe Hart, no Raheem Sterling, no Wayne Rooney, or Leighton Baines, whilst James Milner and Daniel Sturridge were in the squad but didn’t play – on the strength of the performance, are any of those players guaranteed a spot for the Euros?
There was also no Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott or Oxlade-Chamberlain – all good players who unfortunately struggle with injuries – and no Luke Shaw either, but the one player whose usually automatic place in the squad needs to be questioned is Wayne Rooney. He no longer possesses the explosive pace he once had and his form for Man Utd this season hasn’t exactly been stellar. Yes, he is England’s all-time top scorer, but most of his goals have come against minnows, and surely a player who is not in form should not go (or at the very least, not be in the starting line-up)?
Compare him to Kane and Jamie Vardy. Kane has been in sparkling form for Spurs and his goal last night was pure quality. His Cruyff-esque turn (an appropriate tribute to the late and legendary Johann Cruyff) on the edge of Germany’s penalty area, followed by a crisp finish into the far corner, was a moment of magic, whilst Vardy’s cheeky flick beyond Neuer’s grasp to equalise was the mark of a striker full of confidence. It’s hard to imagine England playing with that sort of pace with a slow Rooney in the side.
There are still question marks over the centre of England’s defence. Gary Cahill does reasonably well for Chelsea but was found wanting and in the middle of nowhere for Germany’s second goal and this is not the first time he has been caught out against talented opposition. Phil Jagielka is experienced but does he have what it takes at the highest level? John Stones is full of potential and dare I say it, Chris Smalling hasn’t been too bad. Still, defence is England’s biggest weakness.
So, whilst the win over Germany was a fine one, questions remain.