Sad Keegan falls on his sword

Farewell to Wembley and to the England coach after tactical plan is brutally exposed by the Germans
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And so, on a dank, dismal October afternoon, a national institution passed away, with not many friends. We knew it was over for Wembley, whose end could not come swiftly enough. Nobody expected the same of Kevin Keegan, not yet, anyway. But his demise followed within the hour. As the curtain fell on the Last Pitch Show at the 77-year-old stadium, when referee Stefano Braschi blew time he also called it on the little Yorkshireman who had already planned his valedictory speech. "Kevin Keegan's has given it his best shot," he said, his voice trembling with emotion as he explained his resignation. "I don't want to go on and outstay my welcome. The fans feel it is time for me to go."

And so, on a dank, dismal October afternoon, a national institution passed away, with not many friends. We knew it was over for Wembley, whose end could not come swiftly enough. Nobody expected the same of Kevin Keegan, not yet, anyway. But his demise followed within the hour. As the curtain fell on the Last Pitch Show at the 77-year-old stadium, when referee Stefano Braschi blew time he also called it on the little Yorkshireman who had already planned his valedictory speech. "Kevin Keegan's has given it his best shot," he said, his voice trembling with emotion as he explained his resignation. "I don't want to go on and outstay my welcome. The fans feel it is time for me to go."

Asked whether he had contemplated staying on until Wednesday's game against Finland, he retorted: "It's the end of the road for me. If I carried on, it would be for all the wrong reasons."

Instead the FA will turn to Howard Wilkinson in a caretaker capacity, with bookmakers divided on Keegan's long-term replacement. Terry Venables emerged as 4-1 favourite with one, while Sunderland's Peter Reid came out on top at 5-1 with another. Other names in the frame include Peter Taylor, the Leicester manager, Middlesbrough's Bryan Robson, John Gregory at Aston Villa.

Keegan insisted that he had not been pushed by the FA. "It came 1,000 per cent from me. Nobody put a gun to my head. In fact, I probably had a longer run than I could have expected." He admitted that he was "not the man to take it [England] a stage further" and, despite an improved performance against France in a friendly last month, it was the clear evidence here yesterday that his team have not progressed since Euro 2000 that will have influenced his decision. At the end of this demolition derby between two of football's most avowed rivals, there was no question of whom had learnt most since that last meeting between the nations in Charleroi.

The German contingent will, no doubt, regard Dietmar Hamann's match-winner as a gift from the gods as a final settlement of debt owed to them ever since Geoff Hurst's dubious second goal cost them the 1966 World Cup. England supporters will merely shrug that the defeat was simply a reflection of England's current status in the game. A team of largely indifferent performers, poorly managed.

As Franz Beckenbauer had led out the German team, alongside England's Sir Bobby Charlton, there must have been great expectation in his heart. Before yesterday, England had won only three of their last nine appearances at Wembley. In contrast, Germany, the triple world champions, who had only lost once at Wembley since the 1966 World Cup, had never been defeated in an away World Cup qualifying fixture.

Germany, without remotely resembling the side that the Kaiser once decorated, looked competent in defence, inventive going forward. They might have won by more. England fashioned half-chances, but rarely coped with the surface, far less their opponents.

Andy Cole, though yet again failing to inscribe the first entry into his scoring log for England, emerged as his team's greatest threat to a German back four as resolute as we have come to expect from that nation and in which Jeans Nowotny of Bayer Leverkusen was particularly strong. Cole's partner, Michael Owen, anonymous in the first half, made a greater impact after the interval, but scarcely had the visitors' rearguard trembling with trepidation. Beckham, too, relished his second-half role once drafted into central midfield with the introduction of Kieron Dyer, but his threat to the Germans was largely restricted to free-kicks, rather than through hisinvention.

Keegan had prompted derision in some quarters over his naming of Gareth Southgate as an anchor midfielder. The Aston Villa man's presence was possibly not the most auspicious of portents, as he had missed the vital penalty against Germany in the Euro 96 semi-final shoot-out. But the England coach believed that if Southgate could counter the threat of the attacking midfielder Mehmet Scholl it would greatly enhance England's cause. In fact, Scholl still escaped too frequently for Keegan's peace of mind. After half-time, the England coach withdrew Gary Neville, brought on Kieron Dyer and changed his defensive formation to a three-man unit, with Southgate moving to the left of Adams and Keown, the best of England's performers.

In the absence of the injured Carsten Jancker, Scholl functioned almost as a secondary striker to Oliver Bierhoff during a first half in which Germany secured the initiative after an uneasy start by both sides.

It was inevitable that there should be a staccato rhythm to the play initially, so treacherous was the rain-softened surface. Limitation of errors was the prime concern, and while Germany effected that comfortably, England continually failed to adapt. The visitors were increasingly dangerous down the right flank, with Sebastian Deisler, the Hertha Berlin midfielder regarded as Germany's David Beckham, proving rather more threatening than the English model. He was given far too much acreage to cross the ball by Graeme Le Saux, but, fortunately for the Chelsea full-back, withoutreward.

When Germany established their lead after 13 minutes it was hardly unexpected, though Keegan will not have been satisfied with either the manner of its conception, or its execution. Paul Scholes is always a liability in the challenge, and even more so with underfoot conditions like these. After Michael Ballack had gone down under the Manchester United midfielder's challenge, Liverpool's Hamann dispatched the resulting free-kick, from 25 yards, past a stricken Seaman into the corner of the net.

England gradually began to assert themselves. Cole was particularly lively and after the striker had turned Nowotny in the area, Oliver Kahn had to be alert to deny him. The goalkeeper also blocked the striker's header from a Le Saux cross.

England's best opportunity fell to Tony Adams two minutes before the break when a Beckham free-kick found him unmarked in the German area. The captain's diving header had pace and accuracy, and Kahn had to be at his most acrobatic to make the save.

An appearance during the interval of three Olympic gold medallists, Steve Redgrave, Audley Harrison and Denise Lewis, raised the pitch of emotions to a crescendo at the beginning of the second half and, at first, the players responded. Keegan's decision to introduce Dyer also had a galvanising effect, allowing Beckham to assert himself in central midfield, alongside Old Trafford comrade-in-arms Scholes.

Beckham struck a drive with such power it must surely have bruised Kahn's hands as the Bayern Munich goalkeeper deflected the ball over his bar. Gareth Barry came on for Le Saux, and almost immediately afterwards Beckham again tested Kahn, this time the ball veering just wide of the far post. Kahn's handling was, at times, a little suspect from aerial crosses, and that fact provided a constant source of hope for Keegan's men. But as the legs grew weary, so their efforts grew more desperate, and it was Germany who should have finished off England more conclusively. On the break Diesler was presented with an invitation to do so, but shot over the bar.

Keegan was a little more deadly when he put a weapon to his own temple.

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