“Phoney war” is a somewhat unfortunate phrase to use in the context of an England-Germany match, but that is the stage both these teams are at as they build towards next summer’s World Cup finals. Roy Hodgson knows this. The England manager was dismissive of the impact of Friday’s defeat to Chile: “It won’t stop us winning our first game of the World Cup, will it? I don’t see the relevance,” he said.
The same, up to a point, could be said of this performance. With most of the Germany team having half an eye on Saturday’s showdown between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, the first half was especially pedestrian. The second, for England, was dispiriting, and Hodgson will hope come next summer that it, too, has no relevance.
Anglo-German friendlies do have a habit of being misleading, though usually in producing false dawns for England in delivering results that are not repeated in the competitive environment.
As far back as 1975, after Don Revie had sent his team out with the exhortation, “Remember, these buggers bombed our homes”, England beat the then world champions 2-0, with Alan Hudson producing one of the finest ever England debuts.
Hudson played one more match, a 5-0 win over Cyprus, and was then cast out by Revie, whose team subsequently failed to reach the 1976 European Championship. West Germany reached the final.
A decade on, during a pre-World Cup fact-finding tour, England went one better, defeating West Germany 3-0 with Kerry Dixon scoring twice. In Mexico a year later, England went out in the quarter-finals, Dixon having played for six just minutes… and the Germans reached the final.
In the last friendly, in Berlin in late 2008, England won 2-1, with Gabby Agbonlahor making a sparkling debut and centre-halves Matthew Upson and John Terry both scoring. Germany went on to reach the semi-finals in the 2010 World Cup, having thrashed England 4-1 on the way. Upson and Terry were playing at centre-half; Agbonlahor was at home in Birmingham.
Given this history it would be foolish to read too much into this result, but for one man the exercise had real relevance. Joe Hart has had a miserable season, beginning with the goal he conceded here against Scotland.
It was potentially the last match he will play until March – and the next England friendly against Denmark – unless Costel Pantilimon loses form at Manchester City, Hart secures a loan move in the January transfer window or Manuel Pellegrini decides to give him the consolation of playing in FA Cup ties.
As a goalkeeper who sometimes looks too eager to join the action, he will have found the first half-hour frustrating. Desperate to show that his ability remains undimmed, he was a spectator as both teams floundered in midfield.
Then Per Mertesacker rose to meet Toni Kroos’s corner and Hart twisted acrobatically in mid-air to claw the ball away. Quickly to his feet, he saved a follow-up shot at the near post. True, Mertesacker scored when the subsequent corner was played back in by Kroos, but there was nothing Hart could do about that.
Another save early in the second half, when he stood up well to deny Marco Reus, further bolstered his belief – but then came another mad rush from goal, reminiscent of the one at Stamford Bridge which finally snapped Pellegrini’s patience.
Chris Smalling had dithered but Hart had no need to leave his area; instead he clattered into the Manchester United defender and was grateful that the loose ball fell to Phil Jagielka, not an opponent.
He made a sharp save from Mario Götze soon afterwards, and then came out to good effect when Sidney Sam broke through. But that rash impetuosity will be hard for Hodgson – and Pellegrini – to forget.