James Lawton: Maturity, planning, unity... Germany are miles ahead


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The Independent Online

It is not encouraging that England, heroic, pragmatic, new inhabitants of the real football world – by all means take your pick – were too drained to train two days before tonight's pivotal group game against the Sweden they have never beaten in a competitive game.

There was, of course, also a little more of some old angst when on the same day Germany – the team whose international record has become an almost unbroken reproach to English failure – had rarely looked stronger or more willing to run an extra yard.

But then England's discomfort is hardly a gobsmacking surprise when you consider their ludicrous arrangements. Their opener against France on Monday, a gutsy 1-1 draw in oppressive heat, required them to make a round trip of 1,644 miles.

Their opponents had a rather less arduous one – both ways took scarcely half an hour. A local base gave the French the advantage of a week of acclimatisation in the extreme weather of eastern Ukraine, which in the last few days has been as much as 50F (29C) hotter than at England's Polish base in Krakow. That is like preparing in Margate for a game in midsummer Madrid.

Tonight's game in Kiev for England involves a mere two-way jaunt of 694 miles. The Swedes, having all their group games in Kiev, have astonishingly set up their camp there.

If the English logistics are weird at any level, they were given another perspective by the Germans as they imperiously put down the Netherlands on Wednesday. Before the draw was made Germany had secured first refusal on the best training facility in eastern Europe, if not in the entire football universe: the Kirsha Centre. It has superb accommodation, nine training fields (eight of them natural grass), a network of physiotherapy and medical recovery rooms – indeed, everything a first-class sports outfit would need if it had serious intentions of winning a great tournament.

Naturally, the French moved in tout de suite the moment they heard the centre, built by Rinat Akhmetov, the owner of Shakhtar Donetsk, was no longer required by the Germans.

So what, you might ask if you had just arrived from another planet, could England's location so far from the Euro front line possibly be about? It is of course about creating an agreeable ambience for £100,000-plus-a-week professional athletes who simply cannot stomach the idea of being imprisoned for more than a few days somewhere designed to create that zone of tunnelled concentration and high-level physical tuning which generally accompanies the highest achievement. Fabio Capello tried it in South Africa two years ago and you might have thought he'd taken the idea from the Spanish Inquisition.

Meanwhile, the Germans continue to be as hard on themselves as any opponents. Before their perfect Euro start, their coach Joachim Löw, left, spoke of the extraordinary intensity of his young team. "They were good in South Africa two years ago but they are so much better now – the young players have matured so well and the moment they appear with the squad you can see their intensity, their ambition. They are so much stronger and mature. In so many situations their strength and understanding has become automatic."

The idea of such unity might seem like a fantasy to Hodgson. One unsettling image of this week's training meltdown was of Ashley Cole, a prodigious performer in Chelsea's late-season surge, angrily kicking away a water bottle. For England, happy camping is not the easiest chore.

Tonight England not only have to rally legs. The players have also to grasp quite how much ground has to be made up.