England v Germany

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The Independent Online

GOALKEEPERS

David Seaman may remain England's best but with his 38th birthday due later this month, his career is in inexorable decline. Experience goes a long way but it cannot compensate for the unavoidable reduction in speed and mobility induced by age. Oliver Kahn, at 32, is at his peak. His saves in the European Cup final's penalty shoot-out underlined his bear-like presence between the sticks. Like Peter Shilton and Peter Schmeichel before him, he seems to fill the goal yet remains agile. Similarly vocal he will be a formidable barrier for an England team which has to win.

Verdict: Kahn the safer pair of hands

DEFENCE

After experimenting with each other's ways both national sides have reverted to tradition. For England that means a flat-back-four; for Germany a sweeper, two markers and wing-backs. While Rio Ferdinand and Sol Campbell have dove-tailed well in central defence for England there are doubts about the flanks. On the right Sven Goran Eriksson must decide whether Gary Neville, who is low on confidence, or his brother Phil, who rarely plays in the position, presents the lesser risk. On the left Ashley Cole's inexperience was exposed by the nightmares Boudewijn Zenden gave him at White Hart Lane.

The German defence is based on Jens Nowotny, the 27-year-old Bayer Leverkusen sweeper, who has been an Arsenal target. Quick, strong and good on the ball he can, like Ferdinand, step out to telling effect. Given the roasting Emile Heskey gave Thomas Linke in Monaco, and Michael Owen's scintillating form, he may, though, be kept busy covering for Linke and Christian Worns, the likely markers. Worns plays in a four at Dortmund which will not help. The versatile Marco Rehmer is an alternative marker but he is more likely to play on the right flank, with Christian Ziege hoping his solid display against David Beckham in Charleroi, and his return to first-team action with Spurs, will win him the nod on the left ahead of Jorg Bohme.

Verdict: Neither side can feel secure

MIDFIELD

The crucial area of the game, not least because both sides can staff it with abundant quality. Just as Steven Gerrard is England's great hope Sebastian Deisler is Germany's. Both, too, are injury-prone. In the absence of the injured Mehmet Scholl, Deisler is expected to play in the 'hole'. With Carsten Ramelow suspended, having been sent off in Albania, support will come from Liverpool's Dietmar Hamann and Bayer Leverkusen's Michael Ballack. Hamann was man-of-the-match at Wembley while Michael Ballack's classy versatility once saw him christened "the new Beckenbauer". This trio will be backed-up, whenever possible, by the wing-backs in an attempt to outnumber England's quartet. Paul Scholes must, therefore, strike the right balance between working hard defensively and maintaining his goal threat while David Beckham's fitness will be fully tested. Whoever fills the problem position on the left-flank needs to keep Rehmer occupied while also bolstering Gerrard. Verdict: Close contest with Gerrard-Hamann match-up the key

ATTACK

The matches Charleroi and Wembley were both settled by a single goal and, despite defensive weaknesses on both sides, tonight's match will be just as tight. England can be encouraged by Owen's scalding form and their array of supplementary goalscoring talents. Germany, by contrast, must rely on the lumbering Carsten Jancker, whose stunning goal in Finland must have been a fluke, and the much-travelled Swiss-born Oliver Neuville. Surprisingly omitted from Euro 2000, during which Jancker missed a golden chance to equalise against England, he has every incentive to finally make a mark. But with Owen, Andy Cole, Robbie Fowler and Heskey to choose from this is one area where Rudi Völler envies Sven Goran Eriksson.

Verdict: England have the striking edge

SUBSTITUTES

Each team can bring on three substitutes from a seven-man bench, which should cover most options. Germany have the bonus of several versatile players but remain limited in attack where Oliver Bierhoff, despite only finding himself a club last week, is the main alternative. However, England's Andy Cole and Robbie Fowler have also been underemployed this season as has Steve McManaman. Owen Hargreaves may be an intriguing inclusion on England's bench.

Verdict: Supersub headlines unlikely

COACH

With two decades' experience across four countries Sven Goran Eriksson has, to copy his own phrase, "experience to sell". Rudi Völler, with just a year in the profession, might like to buy. Described as "the guy from next door", he is as popular in Germany as Kevin Keegan was in England before it all went horribly wrong for the former England manager. The danger is that Völler, another "feelgood" manager whose stewardship is intuitive rather than clinical, could eventually prove similarly limited. Eriksson, calm and methodical, ought to prove the more effective when tactical changes are required.

Verdict: Eriksson nous may outsmart Voller

CONCLUSION

England possess more match-winners in their ranks but Germany have home advantage. They also have the confidence engendered by a six-point lead in Group Nine, the Wembley win, a peerless qualifying record and excellent form under Völler. That, plus the excellence of Oliver Kahn, may be enough to keep England at bay.

Verdict: A draw

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