Banks of England: We're peaking at right time and can hurdle colts
Momentum is with England and although Ozil is a threat, experience can trump youthful exuberance
Sunday 27 June 2010
Iam very optimistic that England's greater experience can trump Germany's youthful exuberance today and take Fabio Capello's team into the last eight of this World Cup. Tournament play is all about peaking at the right times, and about building momentum. I sense that we're doing both whereas Germany may have peaked too soon.
They looked unstoppable against Australia, then managed to lose to Serbia and did just about enough to beat Ghana, whereas we went from our lowest ebb against Algeria to a greatly improved performance against Slovenia. Those early stumbles will have been purged from the players' minds by the victory on Wednesday. From my experience a win gives you confidence, which in turn provides impetus.
I'm not unduly concerned that we finished second in our group, and that it's given us Germany and possibly Argentina next Saturday, because you have to beat the best to become world champions We shouldn't be in fear of these nations.
Since '66 the Germans have always finished at least one stage ahead of England in the World Cup and there was a time, until that amazing 5-1 win in Munich in 2001, when they regularly got the better of us. But you don't have to be burdened by history; the point is to try to make it. Besides, it's all about how the two sides look now, and I didn't think Germany played well against Ghana compared with our most recent game. If you start well and get goals, as they did against Australia, players can't help thinking, 'This is going to be easy'. Then when you meet better opposition and don't get it all your own way, you can struggle.
I felt Germany possibly looked tired the other night. They weren't releasing the ball as early and keeping it moving quite like they were before. Then you get caught in tackles and players get knocks and strains like Mesut Ozil and Bastian Schweinsteiger did. Mind you, Ozil looks a very dangerous player – and he's only 21. The way he floats between midfield and the front has shades of the young Franz Beckenbauer, and he's got a fair shot as he showed with the winner against Ghana.
The keeper, Manuel Neuer, has caught my eye too. He's only 24 and came into the finals with a handful of caps but looks very competent and solid. They have a good tradition of keepers – I think of Hans Tilkowski, Sepp Maier, Oliver Khan – and he appears to be in that mould.
I see it's the youngest side the Germans have brought to the finals since 1934. England's greater experience can be to our advantage. It counts for a hell of a lot. Players like John Terry, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole were playing internationals well before some of the German lads had come through the ranks at their clubs. Older players get nerves too, but I always feel they relax faster and can play their normal game quicker than a tense young player.
Terry was exceptional against Slovenia. The way he threw his body in the way of danger lifted the players around him and gave them belief. Cole was also good defensively, although with Gerrard tending to drift infield from the left, he hasn't got forward yet like he does for Chelsea. Wayne Rooney is still not up to his Manchester United standards of last season, but at least he showed a determination to make things happen. If he can spark into form, it goes without saying he could be England's match-winner.
I come back to my feeling that England can win this one and reward their incredible support. The South Africans also seem to be getting behind us, which is great. Against Slovenia, the noise really hit me every time we crossed the halfway line. That can only be an inspiration.
Remember this is sport, not war
Some of the press are still fighting the Second World War to judge by the ridiculous headlines about today's match, such as "It's War" and "Bring on the Hun". It's offensive because it trivialises what people went through and it has no place in football. I played lots of big games against West Germany and I'm forever being asked about one I didn't play in, during the 1970 finals, when I was laid low by a nasty bug and had to watch it on TV in our hotel.
Yet I have no animosity towards the Germans. In fact, I met my wife there when I did National Service in the 1950s.
I also grew up idolising Bert Trautmann, a German who was a prisoner of war in England and ended up having a fantastic career with Manchester City. You'll never see a better, braver keeper, and he's a lovely man. He was also a true sportsman, which reminds me that I'd like to see this tournament improve its standards. I watched Spain against Chile and couldn't believe the kicking, the diving and conning referees. That's not right. It's sport, not war.
Franz 'mind games' miss target
I can't believe the stuff Franz Beckenbauer has been coming out with. Over the past week he's said England play "kick and rush", are looking "burnt out" and showed "stupidity" in finishing second in the group. I'm surprised because I've met him numerous times, such as reunions of the two teams from the 1966 final, and always found him pleasant and fair-minded.
I suspect he's trying to play mind games, to get to the England players and undermine their morale. It'll probably have the opposite effect. With all the experience our players have got, on the pitch and in the management team, they should shrug this off or use it to positive ends.
Maybe Franz is still sore about our third goal in that final all those years ago. He should have got over it by now, especially since we got a fourth at the end. We could argue that Wolfgang Weber's equaliser should have been disallowed because of handball, which is why you see me and Bobby Moore appealing. But it's all history now. I just hope we can make the "Kaiser" eat his words today.
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