Honours Even as England and Germany Share Barmy Six-Goal Thriller

England 3–3 Germany

by Dom Smith at Wembley

At least it wasn’t more of the same. Many of England’s recent matches have been hard to analyse. This was no different — but not because it was dire and not because of absentees. It was difficult to read into because it was so utterly compelling. England were excellent on the break but often desperately subpar in defence. Germany were comfortably in control and potent in attack. A 3–3 draw with all the goals in a scintillating second half. Great for the neutral; much too busy for both managers’ liking.

Hansi Flick’s side were flicking the ball this way and that in the opening exchanges of this sold-out Wembley dead-rubber. The biggest criticism of England in this period was that they simply weren’t touching the ball. When they finally did, goalkeeper Nick Pope had his clearance blocked by former England youth star Jamal Musiala. İlkay Gündoğan struck just over the target and finally Pope could wind up his goal-kick and England had the ball back.

The ball itself is a highly precious commodity in the world of tournament football. Tournament football, by the way, being England’s next port of call… in just 56 days’ time. England will need to relearn how to win the ball, keep the ball, and use the ball shrewdly.

They needed a spark, and that spark was ignited by Raheem Sterling as he roamed free and forced Marc-André ter Stegen into a stunning, sprawling save down to his right. Sterling should have scored, but he’d awoken the England supporters from a dormant state to a unanimous hum of piercing encouragement. Cue England’s purple patch. Within a minute, Kane headed against Niklas Süle from a corner and cracked a wonderful dipping volley over the goalkeeper and just wide of the post. Then Ter Stegen denied Sterling again.

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England were here after all. A worrying injury to John Stones meant Kyle Walker came on. Then Joshua Kimmich fired just wide of Pope’s post as Germany rallied at the end of a goalless first half.

Fans will appreciate that this was England’s final match before the World Cup so a strong team was likely, but Southgate is narrowing his squad down too far. James Ward-Prowse, Fikayo Tomori, Jarrod Bowen and Trent Alexander-Arnold were not even included in the matchday squad here despite totalling zero minutes between them in Friday’s concerning defeat at the San Siro. This was a strictly Southgate’s Boys Members Only club. Harry Maguire was first in.

Maguire’s place in this England team is almost as divisive a topic as Liz Truss’s attempts to save the country from economic woe. On 50 minutes, the benched Manchester United captain was twisted this way and that by Musiala’s quick feet. Maguire chopped at the Bayern Munich teenager’s legs. Referee Danny Makkelie said no penalty but the VAR strongly disagreed.

Gündoğan slid his spot-kick into the bottom right corner to pile the pressure on Southgate, Maguire and England. As if it wasn’t already piled as high as the Wembley arch.

When Jude Bellingham blazed over from Reece James’s pullback, you wondered whether England were ever going to score again. 52 goals in the calendar year of 2021. It was like they’d used up all their tokens.

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Germany certainly hadn’t. Maguire and the ball got themselves tangled up throughout this match — as if the footballing gods were requesting his absence from the World Cup. This was the first time in 48 caps that he let England down. Germany broke away as the centre-back was dispossessed near the German box. Kai Havertz received it on the right, and he cut onto his left to bend a stunning finish into the top corner and in off the post. 2–0 Germany and England had stunk the place out yet again.

But then something happened. Just a minute before the Chelsea man’s scorcher, Bukayo Saka and Mason Mount had replaced Phil Foden and Sterling. From James’s 72nd-minute cross, Luke Shaw received the ball free on the left, chested down and volleyed under Ter Stegen. Süle’s clearance was from behind the line, not off it, and England had scored from open play for the first time in 606 long minutes of football.

Then Saka was dribbling through Germany’s midfield as if it were simply letting him. Then he was feeding Mount. Then Mount was curling the ball round the Barcelona goalkeeper and in for an excellently worked 74th-minute equaliser. Finally some good news for Southgate — his subs had turned the game on its head to level from two down for England. Spirit rewarded.

Kane smashed into the side-netting with a shot that caused cheers across the stadium from buoyant England fans who thought he’d scored. But before Kane received the ball, VAR had found Nico Schlotterbeck to have fouled Bellingham. Schlotterbeck was penalised, giving away his second penalty against England in as many games.

Kane thundered into the top left corner and maybe there was to be another famous old Wembey win over the Germans for Southgate, who endured so much personal anguish in this fixture all those years ago.

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But the visitors weren’t having any of it, keen not to lose after they were humbled by England’s own bogey team Hungary on Friday. Pope fumbled Serge Gnabry’s saveable shot as Germany enjoyed a rare counter-attack. Out to Havertz it popped off Pope, and into the net he popped it. Havertz had pinched two on the night — and it looked as though Germany had regrouped to pinch a point.

Kane bent the ball into the half of the pitch where everyone wasn’t. Saka latched onto it and the Arsenal attacker hurtled into a field of green on a solo mission to regain England’s lead. His right-footed shot was heading in, but Ter Stegen is one of the world’s best goalkeepers and offered another reminder of that as he got down to his right to parry wide with a tremendous save. It ended 3–3 — England’s previous longest winless run under Southgate now doubled in length.

A return to form for England’s star-studded attackers cancelled out by another untimely reminder of the national team’s defensive frailties. A hell of a lot of food for thought. Some of it delicious, some of it nauseating.

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