Friendly at Wembley: England 1 Germany 2
With Steven Gerrard, Darren Bent, Andy Johnson, Owen Hargreaves, Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole unavailable England fielded a side that still contained practically eight players who should be chosen to feature against Israel in the qualifier in a fortnight's time. Paul Robinson, Micah Richards, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, David Beckham, Michael Owen. Why is this the case? Why are these eight guaranteed selection come September 8th? Terry is the national captain and if fit will feature, but the others have to justify their selection. Is that justification made easier because we have no one else for their positions? Does anyone think Campbell and David James are too old to be playing for England?
England featured Nicky Shorey for Cole, Michael Carrick for Hargreaves, Alan Smith alongside Michael Owen. The Germans were missing Michael Ballack, Miroslav Klose, Lucas Podolski, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Torsten Frings, Tim Borowski, Oliver Neuville, and in came debutant Christian Pander at left-back, former Aston Villa midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger, Piotr Trochowski and Kevin Kuranyi with Bernd Schneider as vice-captain in the starting XI. Much was made of Jens Lehmann in goal following two blunders in Arsenal's opening league games but the keeper was unfazed with the press and relished turning out at the new Wembley.
England got off to a good start in the opening twenty minutes. I felt we were sturdy at the back with the lone man in Kuranyi, I earmarked Daniel Odonkor as a potential danger with his pace and position supporting Kuranyi but Odonkor saw little of the ball, so too did Kuranyi in those 20mins. england kept possession well and passed around quicker and sharper, players were moving into spaces in anticipation a lot more than before. Micah Richards had a superb time thwarting Man Utd at the weekend and took on the flanks like a winger, always taking on Pander who struggled to keep up with him. Richards went on a little run to tuck the ball to Lampard, who turned and shot a fierce drive past Lehmann. Alan Shearer said at half time that Lehmann should have done better at his near post, but it was a fierce drive.
Now Lampard was stated as being "[b]ooed on his last appearance at Wembley against Brazil" and "he had a point to prove - and he certainly did just that with his early goal.
If he had got on the end of [Shaun] Wright-Phillips' cross to equalise late on, then he would have been England's hero. Even so, he still vindicated his continued selection." I felt Lampard was OK but could have contributed much more, He was on hand to dispossess on occasion and joined up in the nuild-up towards the Germany goal. Scoring a goal doesn't vindicate anyone on its own. England were quite comfortable with Germany offering little in return until a blunder from Robinson suddenly gifted the opposition with confidence.
Past the half-way point of the half, Hitzlsperger came forward and shot at Robinson to which the Spurs keeper got down well to stop but the ball was loose for Nicky Shorey to gather and clear. The clearance fell straight to Schneider on the right wing, who touched it forward, keeping it from going off for a throw, and then delivered a cross. Robinson had at this time anticipated a curling ball to the penalty spot and was off his line. The cross instead directed towards the goal and Robinson had a split-second to react, stepping back hurriedly and diving to tip the ball away from goal. The ball fell directly to Kuranyi and before either Terry or Ferdinand could even react, the Schalke 04 forward had tucked the ball away into an unguarded net.
What could Robinson have done otherwise? He could have positioned himself better, he could have palmed the ball back in the same direction it came from, but in palming the ball to Kuranyi it showed he did not look or have an idea of Kuranyi's presence. England could have equalised when a Beckham free-kick was just missed at the far post after Smith flicked it on. Lampard was found on the left and as he took two extra touches he was closed down and Lehmann saved comfortably. From then the Germans played with more poise and came forward more often. Christoph Metzelder's header from a Pander curling left-foot free-kick would have been dismissed due to a flag but Robinson came out and completely missed the ball in the process.
We lost some of the panache we had in the first 20mins and Germany took the lead as Pander shrugged off his Richards endurance to smack a left foot strike from 20-25 yards past Robinson. No one closed him down. Owen should have scored when Smith again flicked on the ball and Lehmann could only parry the ball into Owen's path. Owen was inches away from an open goal and from an angle he has scored from before, he hooked the ball high over the bar. The second half had England coming forward but they failed to have the sharpness they had in the first half first 20mins. James and Wes Brown came on for Robinson and Ferdinand for the second half, Gareth Barry came on for Carrick mid-way, Peter Crouch and Kieron Dyer came on for Smith and Owen and lastly Wright-Phillips took over from Cole on the left wing.
James was due to replace Robinson at half-time, apparently, and Ferdinand was off with a slight injury, which moved Richards to centre-back and brown to right-back. Lampard went close getting on the end of a SWP cross but the ball came off his toe away from goal. Dyer was found on the right but couldnt tee up his shot after Beckham played him through. England should have pushed on more after Lampard's goal and despite Robinson's error should have restarted their drive again to put pressure back on the Germans, but instead the error had gotten to them and that allowed Germany back into the game. MOTM was Richards, looking better and better for club and country.
As for Steve McLaren, I see him as a scapegoat. The players yesterday showed they can play well but then waned and lost sharpness overall. The names of Joleon Lescott, Dean Ashton, Stephen Taylor, pass around but it's more to do with their mentality on the pitch, I don't think it is strong enough to endure for 90mins. McLaren has as much to do with that as the players do but he seems to get most of the criticism. The thing is if he was to poll the nation for who should play where, he would still dissatisfy many. Within the next fortnight the squad need to pray for two things: they have a full fit squad and they all want to eat, drink, sleep football. Otherwise they will not have the appetite to qualify for Euro2008, much less issue that first win in new Wembley.