Thomas Muller struck twice in three minutes as Germany hammered a desperately poor England. Fabio Capello’s men may look back in anger on a wrongly disallowed Frank Lampard goal, with the match delicately poised at 2-1, but the reality is that England were out-thought, out-fought and played off the park.
There can be no complaints and no excuses: England have been shocking at this World Cup and were well beaten by the better team. Despite only conceding one goal in their three group games it was England’s defence that lost the game, John Terry and Matthew Upson out of position time and again as Germany cut through the English back four at will.
Germany’s opener required no quick movement, no individual skill or delicate through ball. The BBC’s commentary team were still mocking Manuel Neuer’s long run-up to a goal kick when it sailed past the hapless Terry and Upson, Miroslav Klose pouncing to slide the ball past an onrushing David James.
This England were the lumpen side who had faced Algeria, not the sharp, snappy passers of the win over Slovenia or the country’s best ever qualifying campaign. Just twelve minutes later they had let Germany double their lead. Klose and Muller combined to play Lukas Podolski in down the left, and he had so much space that he was able to recover from an awful first touch and smash the ball low across David James and in.
This woke England up and they instantly started to move the ball around with intent. Manuel Neuer looked nervous throughout and he came for and missed a corner that Matthew Upson headed home. It will be scant consolation for him when he wakes this morning and looks back on his role in this, the heaviest World Cup defeat England have ever suffered.
It is true that England were briefly the better team, between Germany’s second and the half time whistle. It is also true that they were right to go down the tunnel at half time feeling hard done by after Frank Lampard was denied a perfectly good goal by the referee and his assistant, the only two people in the stadium who didn’t see a wonderful volley from the edge of the area bounce down off the crossbar a yard over the line.
Had England begun the second half the same way they had finished the first, things might have been different. Germany were a little shocked themselves at how they had almost thrown away a two goal lead and sat back, happy for England to play in front of them.
The long ball was back. Capello had frustrated with his persistence with 4-4-2 throughout the tournament, and once again England found themselves outnumbered in midfield, passed it backwards and lumped it long to the 5’10” Rooney and 5’7″ Defoe. When the ball was played in to a striker’s feet it was quickly wasted.
Rooney was especially culpable, dropping deep to collect the ball, turning and playing inch-perfect crossfield Hollywood passes to an appreciative Jerome Boateng at left back. But few of his team-mates emerged with much credit either. Frank Lampard would hit the crossbar three times over the course of the match but the belated recovery of his shooting boots cannot excuse another error-strewn passing performance from the Chelsea midfielder.
Gareth Barry had been dreadful against Slovenia and was worse here. England had a free kick and the ball fell kindly on the edge of the area to his preferred left side. Rather than smash it Barry took a touch, was disposessed and Germany broke at lightning speed. Thomas Muller played a fantastic crossfield ball to Bastian Schweinsteiger on the left wing then sprinted 50 yards up the pitch to collect the return on the edge of the England area. Muller, a winger for Germany but a striker for Bayern Munich, shot straight at James but with such force that he could only parry it into the net.
While the pace of the German counterattack was impressive, the English defence made it easy for them. One or other of Terry and Upson would be out of position and every time England attacks broke down – which was often – Germany had someone sprinting down the left wing. Just five minutes later it was Mesut Ozil, the young playmaker’s stock rising further still as he easily outpaced Gareth Barry, cut into the box and squared for Muller to tap home from six yards.
England were stunned and spent the last twenty minutes in a daze as they, and a nation, just begged for it to stop. Pubs and living rooms around the country turned to England’s best friends in times of darkness: drink and gallows humour. Capello has a widely-known distaste for the former but he seems to get the latter, throwing on Emile Heskey as a response to Muller making it 4-1, a man who scored three goals for his club all season tasked with doing the same for England in twenty minutes.
Eventually the final whistle went and England’s players knew they were well beaten, showing a grace in defeat that comes easily when you have just taken a battering from a better side. Germany were well worth their win and their investment and faith in youth should be of note to the FA with the Golden Generation surely now, at last, gone. Germany did not have the star names but they had the better footballers and the better team. It is about time the English learned to tell the difference.