The years of hurt continue and Stuart Pearce’s torment at German hands knows no end. Not only did his team fail to win the European Under-21 Championship for the first time since 1984 last night, they suffered something of a humiliation at the hands of an old enemy.
Germany, having never previously won the competition – they lost the 1982 final to England – are now champions of Europe at Under-21, Under-19 andUnder-17 level. All of which bodes rather well for the future.
Before the finish, their brilliant midfielder Mesut Ozil had been allowed to leave the field to take a standing ovation and the manager Horst Hrubesch was being drenched with water by his substitutes. England, unlike Ozil, were not waving but drowning in misery. A goal down at half-time, they conceded a second straight after the restart and in the last quarter of an hour were being taken apart. There could be no argument, though a frustrated Pearce regularly looked ready to start one as he prowled his technical area.
“I hope our players learn from this,” he said, before confirming that he had signed a two-year contract late last week. “We’re a little bit frustrated and we have to improve in two years’ time. It chews me up inside but it spurs me on to be a better coach and manager. I love the work and why would I walk away from that?”
Hrubesch said that as long as his team dealt with England’s set pieces, he was always confident of winning. So it proved.
Seven days ago, England had the better of a 1-1 draw despite fielding 10 reserves. Last night it looked as if it had been the Germans who were hiding something. Fortunate to beat Italy 1-0 in the semi-final, they reached new peaks at just the right time while England did the opposite. Ozil’s performance confirmed that, even at this level, class counts and that it will out.
Where England had two hard-working scufflers in Lee Cattermole and Mark Noble, Germany had a genuine playmaker, who had helped them to the final playing in a different position, much further forward. Last night he dropped deeper, made two goals and scored the critical one himself by defeating the rookie goalkeeper Scott Loach from 35 yards.
So indiscipline from earlier games proved as costly as feared. Having gone into the tournament without seven injured players, England could not afford to have two strikers and their only Premier League goalkeeper suspended.
Theo Walcott, rarely used in a central role these days, was the only candidate to play it and against two good defenders he found the going tough.
Loach, the goalkeeper who spent a couple of years trundling round various Lincolnshire clubs before joining Watford, was preferred to Joe Lewis after each had played 45 minutes in the group match against Germany.
Blameless for the first goal, he made a horrible hash of Ozil’s free-kick and was then left unprotected for Sandro Wagner’s double in the last 12 minutes.
After giving Loach the earliest of touches straight from the kick-off to hoof the ball downfield, England began at the desired tempo and were credited with 60 per cent of possession in the first half. But they went in at the interval a goal behind after failing to manage a shot on target. Midway through the half, Ozil ran at the defence and threaded a deft pass inside the right-back Martin Cranie that allowed Gonzalo Castro to slip the ball past Loach with the outside of his foot, just as he had done in the teams’ first meeting.
Unlike Germany’s senior coach Joachim Löw, Fabio Capello was conspicuous by his absence, having apparently been unable to find a flight after watching the Confederations Cup in South Africa. It may have been just as well for some young England wannabes. Chelsea’s Michael Mancienne replaced Nedum Onuoha in a tactical change at the interval, then fouled the tall deputy centre-forward Wagner only two minutes into the half, conceding the free-kick that Ozil sent dipping over England’s defensive wall. There was no deflection and Loach appeared to go the wrong way, managing only to put a weak left glove on the shot as it swerved past him.
Briefly, England responded. Mancienne, seeking to atone for an uncertain start, moved forward and fed Cattermole for a 25-yard drive that clipped the bar. The Germans, unexpectedly playing in the red strip they used in the semi-final, were also fortunate that Andreas Beck was first able to divert Adam Johnson’s close-range jab to his goalkeeper, then clear Cattermole’s glancing header off the line.
Whenever Ozil was on the ball, however, England were in trouble. Wagner somehow managed to turn his cross wide from barely a yard out, only to seal victory with two goals in five minutes.
Cranie was off the pitch injured and there was no cover as Ozil sent the Bayern forward away to beat Loach. In the next attack another gaping hole appeared in the same spot and Wagner cut inside to strike past a goalkeeper whose worst nightmares, like England’s, had become reality.
England Under-21 (4-1-4-1): Loach (Watford); Cranie (Portsmouth), Richards, Onuoha (both Manchester City), Gibbs (Arsenal); Muamba (Bolton); Milner (Aston Villa), Cattermole (Wigan), Noble (West Ham), Johnson (Middlesbrough);Walcott (Arsenal). Substitutes used: Mancienne (Chelsea) for Onuoha, h-t; Rodwell (Everton) for Muamba 76; Gardner (Aston Villa) for Cranie 79.
Germany Under-21 (4-1-4-1): Neuer (Schalke); Beck (Hoffenheim), Boateng (Hamburg), Hoewedes (Schalke), Boenisch (Werder Bremen); Johnson (1860 Munich); Khedira (Vfb Stuttgart), Castro (Beyer Leverkusen), Ozil (Werder Bremen); Wagner (Bayern Munich). Substitutes used: Schwaab (Freiburg) for Johnson, 68; Aogo (Hamburg) for Hummels, 82; Schmelzer (Borussia Dortmund) for Ozil 88.
Referee: B Kuipers (Netherlands).