Three Lions' loss a timely reminder of reality

Germany's Mertesacker shoots to score a goal past England's Cleverley, Smalling and Jagielka during their international friendly soccer match at Wembley Stadium in London.

ENGLAND 0

GERMANY 1 (Per Mertesacker 39)

First Chile, now Germany. For the first time since 1977, England have lost back-to-back games at Wembley.

It's not the way that Roy Hodgson would have wanted to close out the year, but if there's one positive that can be taken, it will at least lower unrealistic expectations.

Against teams like Montenegro and Poland, England look strong. Against genuine World Cup contenders like Chile and Germany, a more accurate impression was made.

To make matters worse, this wasn't even Germany's strongest team. Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger are both injured. Mesut Oezil, Manuel Neuer and Philipp Lahm were all rested.

Laughably, there were suggestions in the English press that the Germans were somehow being disrespectful with their team selection, an argument fatally compromised by England's mixed and matched team selection against Chile and the horrible truth that half a Borussia Dortmund team and Toni Kroos is a "weakness" that most nations would love to bemoan.

England, it must be said, offered an entirely acceptable performance.

Acceptable if you first acknowledge that they are a limited team with little chance of success next summer. Even within those parameters, that is the best that can be said.

They attempted to blend long passes with short and slow build-ups from the back with quick counter-attacks.

They defended reasonably well and never accepted defeat, always pushing for something more.

Unfortunately, that was the full extent of their achievements. They did not muster a single shot on target, the best of their opportunities being a shot bounced off the post from range by Andros Townsend and an effort from distance by Steven Gerrard that fizzed over the bar.

It was, sadly, yet another example of England's institutionalised shortcomings showing them up in front of the world.

Tactically there are, perhaps, ways in which Hodgson could improve the team. Perhaps, because it seems churlish to criticise him, given that he secured qualification without a single defeat and with only four goals conceded.

It is on a technical level where England are found wanting. They're simply not good enough on the ball, not smart enough to break down the best defences, not cool enough to make their passes count under pressure.

Given the way in which they secured their place in the Finals, they are unlikely to humiliate themselves in Brazil. But there has been nothing to suggest that they will do anything more than qualify from their group.

While it was bad news for the team, it was good news for one of the more maligned players.

REDEMPTION

For Joe Hart, this was at least a performance to reaffirm his position as England's leading goalkeeper.

The out-of-favour Manchester City man made a stop before half-time that was absolutely world-class, a stiff-wristed, reaction block from a powerful Per Mertesacker header.

It was an outstanding save, the kind that only the very best goalkeepers can make. Unfortunately, it came 60 seconds before a Mertesacker header so deftly delivered that no goalkeeper on the planet could stop it.

Hart made other saves too, though there was one nervous moment when he clattered out of his box and smashed into Chris Smalling.

TV replays, however, confirmed that Hart had shouted and Smalling had failed to get out of the way.

Captain Steven Gerrard was in no doubt as to Hart's position, saying that he was their best player Wednesday.

Hart will go home happy. The England fans, not so much.

Hodgson has just a single game left to play, Denmark in March, before he names his World Cup squad. Between now and then, there is much to ponder.

 

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