“IF it goes to penalties, the England players should not think about the past,” said legendary German goalkeeping curmudgeon Oliver Kahn. “They should think about the present.”
We spent the best part of three days thinking about the past, didn’t we? All those clips of Pearce and Waddle and Southgate missing penalties, of Hurst’s shot bouncing down off the crossbar, of Bonetti letting in a soft one, of Shearer scoring at Euro 2000, of Heskey and Owen and 5-1 in Munich. And of penalties, always of penalties.
It turned out that we were just taking our mind off the present. For all the controversy he caused, Franz Beckenbauer’s suggestions that the England of 2010 weren’t all that great were pretty close to the mark. Germany didn’t just win in Bloemfontein this afternoon – they won comfortably.
England looked like a League One side having a go in an FA Cup tie against a Premier League team. Yes, there were points when they might have got back into the game with a bit more luck, and yes, they fell foul of an outrageously bad refereeing decision at a crucial time. But Germany were the better team. Miles better.
England could have been five goals down before Matthew Upson – who had a horrendous afternoon alongside John Terry in central defence – headed them back into the game from nowhere in the 37th minute.
By that stage, England had conceded just two. Miroslav Klose just ran in between Terry and Upson to score the first direct from a Manuel Neuer goal kick. Mark Lawrenson, who does a nice line in world weariness, summed it up thus: “That’s a goal you’ll see – what day is it today, Sunday? – in every pub game played this morning.”
Lawro and Guy Mowbray have got a good partnership going on the BBC, and their commentary was well judged – pro-England, without being jingoistic, without making lazy references to towels and sunbeds, without excessive banging on about penalties.
They became more exasperated, with the rest of England, as the afternoon wore on, to the point where Lawro’s off-mic sighs and groans became more and more audible.
England’s defending, implausibly, was worse for Germany’s second goal, just past the half-hour. Terry and Upson were dragged across to the left flank, forcing right-back Glen Johnson inside as Thomas Muller raced into the box – which left Lukas Podolski with more time than any striker should have at a World Cup finals match to drill a shot beneath David James.
Then came the Upson goal, out of nowhere, like a surprise party, or a minor lottery win. Within 60 seconds, it should have been 2-2.
Frank Lampard’s shot clearly bounced down over the line. It was obvious even without the need for television replays. But neither referee nor linesman saw it.
“It’s 1966 in reverse,” said Lawro. What would FIFA president Sepp Blatter, in the Bloemfontein stand – a man who has repeatedly rebuffed calls to bring TV technology into football – have made of it?
Let’s not pretend it was a game-changing moment, though. To do that would be to offer an excuse for England’s tactically-inept performance in the final half-hour of the game. Sure, they had a go at Germany in the opening stages of the second half, and Lampard hit the bar with a free-kick. But the two goals they gave away were utterly inexcusable.
The first – Germany’s third – came from another Lampard free-kick, blasted into the wall. Gareth Barry, who as a holding midfielder shouldn’t have been that far forward, got caught in possession on the edge of Germany’s penalty area. Within 15 seconds, Muller was at the other end planting the ball past James.
It was the sort of goal a team concedes in the 89th minute, when they’re chasing a game and committing everyone to attack. Not in the 67th. Amateurish.
When Mesut Ozil outsprinted Gareth Barry down the left – with Johnson miles upfield – to square for Muller’s second three minutes later, the embarrassment was complete.
This was England’s heaviest-ever defeat at a World Cup finals match. (So much for them always being lucky when they’re on the BBC who, incidentally, have now shown their last four major tournament exits exclusively live.) I cannot remember a more embarrassing performance, although the goalless draw against Algeria nine days ago might run it close.
What did we learn? Terry is past it at international level. He looked lost on the right side of central defence. Steven Gerrard is a fading force, as is Lampard. Wayne Rooney just looked knackered, perhaps not fully fit. Do England really rely on him that much?
Fabio Capello would be wise to take a little time to allow the dust to settle before making any rash decisions on his future. He may yet decide to walk away anyway. But the tide of English public opinion has turned against him significantly – and his post-match insistence that his side played well was laughable. Even if he stays on, a poor start to the Euro 2012 qualifiers will finish him as the national coach.
No wonder we England fans like to look to the past. The present is grim and the future looks bleak. Still, Germany played very well. And they didn’t even need penalties.