Football: Venables and England take heart from German artistry: More reasons to be cheerful as a familiar formation helps the world champions defeat Italy. Joe Lovejoy reports from Stuttgart

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The Independent Online
Breakfast with Terry Venables, and the international coach is in his element, toasting Germany as potential World Cup winners and pouring tea and sympathy for the Italians, who had the misfortune to run across the perennial favourites in muscle-flexing form the previous night.

The feeling that England had at last found a round peg to fit into their circular hole was reinforced in Stuttgart, where Venables was instantly at home among the brightest minds in European football.

Those of us who cringed when his predecessor failed to recognise one of the most celebrated Italian defenders of modern times in a match situation were both captivated and encouraged by his morning-after discourse on the individual strengths and tactical deployment behind the Germans'

2-1 win on Wednesday night.

The world champions will provide the stiffest of examinations for the new, improved England when the two countries meet in Berlin on 20 April, but if it is a real test, to borrow a phrase from the previous regime, it is a prospect that finds Venables eager rather than fretful.

The Germans were as powerful as ever, and demanded respect, but Venables' team could match them if they played with the enthusiasm, intelligence and belief which brought success against Denmark first time out.

Guarded optimism was the order of the day. One good result was only the first step on the long march to renewed prosperity, but it was a start. The objective was sustained success, for which Germany were the obvious role model.

They had set the benchmark, Venables said. 'I looked at them last night and thought: that's what we've got to be aiming for. They have all the qualities you can name, and watching Berti Vogts being interviewed, he looked very pleased with himself. You could see he was thinking: I'm travelling to the World Cup with a team that can do us proud.'

Vogts has good reason to view the forthcoming finals with equanimity. The Germans approach England's visit with just one defeat in their last seven games, against Argentina (1-2). Apart from Italy they have beaten Uruguay (5-0), Brazil (2-1) and the United States (3-0). On Wednesday they looked the part as World Cup favourites, controlling the game and creating enough chances to have doubled the two goals Jurgen Klinsmann tucked away to remind an admiring audience that he is probably at his peak, in his 30th year.

The same can be said of the team as a whole. With three 33-year-olds in their starting line-up, time is not on their side, but they have matured together, and the familiar faces seem to be ready for one last hurrah.

Brazil hinted at gathering strength with a 2-0 victory over Argentina on Wednesday night but, in terms of experience and all-round capability, Germany are second to none. There may be better, more accomplished defenders in the world than Guido Buchwald and Jurgen Kohler, but none spring to mind, and a kaleidoscopic midfield with the power and poise of Stefan Effenberg at its fulcrum will rarely be passed, or surpassed.

The Italians, lacking penetration and inventiveness in the absence of Roberto Baggio, were second best throughout.

Venables saw sufficient similarities between Vogts's strategy and his own to fuel the burgeoning belief that England are on the right lines.

Both teams used only one main striker, supported by two auxiliary forwards and a three-man midfield.

Getting down to specifics, Venables said: 'With that shape, you want your two men just behind the striker to tuck in so that the opposing full-backs are not sure whether to follow. Against Denmark, the first goal came about because their right-back wasn't around. He got tempted into coming in to mark Peter Beardsley, and the ball was delivered into the area where he was missing.

'At the same time, you've got to get width. I was able to get it on the left from Beardsley, and on the right from Darren Anderton. The Germans do much the same, but more easily because they all interchange positions so well.'