Add to Fabio Capello's list of achievements this latest triumph: he has built an England team more German than the Germans. Only one team last night was efficient, strong, economical in their passing and ferocious in their defensive pressing and it was not the home side, who found themselves comprehensively beaten at their own game.
Victory came through John Terry's headed goal seven minutes from time, but the achievement of Capello's first year in England had shone through long before that. There may have been 10 senior players missing from this team but imprint of the Capello method was unmistakable in everything his new players did. They looked sure-footed and confident where, one year earlier, confusion and despair had reigned in this team.
That is to say all apart from one individual who has more reason than most to fear tomorrow's anniversary of defeat to Croatia at Wembley. On as a substitute goalkeeper in the second half, Scott Carson reminded everyone of why he was such a complete disaster that night when he played a central part in a monumental cock-up that contributed to Patrick Helmes' equaliser for Germany. Afterwards Terry tried to take the blame but Carson, who was playing for England for the first time since Croatia has become a dangerous liability.
Capello's powers of transformation will rightly take centre-stage when the story of his first year in England – 10 games, just one defeat – is written but last night it was the performance of certain individuals that did him most credit. Stewart Downing had arguably his best performance for England, Michael Carrick and Gareth Barry in central midfield looked every bit as effective as Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. Every man seemed to know his job and there are not many recent England teams that can lay claim to that achievement.
This may have been England's second string against a similarly depleted Germany team but, for the England fans spilling out into the chilly Berlin night, victories on German soil are to be treasured. This was a triumph, the fans' joy seemed to be saying, of our system and our resources over theirs. England had the excellent Carrick to deputise in Gerrard's place. Instead of the injured Michael Ballack, Germany had the abject Simon Rolfes. Rolf Harris might have been more effective.
Capello had already achieved his great signature moment, a watershed was passed when England beat Croatia in Zagreb so impressively in September. This was an added flourish, a little gift from this stubbornly successful Italian for the Christmas period when the Premier League takes over. Over the last six days he has been unflappable in the face of so many withdrawals and decisive in his dealings over the Gerrard injury, and those many aspects of the England manager's personality could be detected in his team's performance last night.
He also picked a brave team with Gabriel Agbonlahor paired with Jermain Defoe in attack. On his England debut, Agbonlahor did not let anyone down, capable of coming short for the ball as well as sprinting onto the pass over the top. He was unlucky to be denied a goal which was ruled offside in the first half and there is obviously a future for him in this side. Less certain are the credentials of Darren Bent who fell over his own feet having gone round the substitute German goalkeeper Tim Wiese in the second half.
But there is no doubt that Capello has given international friendlies back their dignity. Since his team were booed off against the Czech Republic in August he has impressed upon his players – not just the starting XI but the bench too – that they have a clearly defined role. Which meant that even though England made three of their four substitutions between their goals they still kept their shape and purpose and were capable of claiming a late victory despite the extensive changes to personnel.
Matthew Upson scored the first after 23 minutes, part of a defence that – Helmes' goal excepted – looked very solid, Glen Johnson another impressive performer at right-back in Wes Brown's absence. The Germans were booed off at half-time and then again after the match when they attempted a half-hearted salute to their fans. The jeers from the crowd were not unusual as far as the England players were concerned; what was different was that they were not directed at them.
It was not the quite the friendly night that both countries' football authorities might have wished for, there were occasional scuffles outside the stadium between the two sets of fans who were frustrated at the delays at getting in. The Germans booed the English national anthem, the English fans responded by singing that unfortunate song about the RAF and German bombers. Then the England team surprised everyone by playing like Germans. Curiously, in eight games against Germany in Berlin, England have never once suffered defeat.
In the first 10 minutes played, England had 77 per cent of the possession and hassled the Germans at every opportunity. Even Defoe was tracking back. Their goal came from a corner won on the right by Shaun Wright-Phillips. Downing crossed the ball into the area where, in Heurelho Gomes-style, Rene Adler, the Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper, completely missed with his punch. The ball struck Agbonlahor who could not adjust in time to shoot and as it dropped to the turf, Upson, making his fourth consecutive start, was the first to react and prod it in.
It is because Capello knows that he must have at least one serious understudy for James in the run-up to 2010 that he introduced Carson at half-time. Within 18 minutes he was probably regretting doing so. Terry tried to shepherd the ball back to Carson to collect with Helmes behind him. Neither player was particularly decisive but Carson never took charge of the situation and Helmes tapped the ball through his legs before putting it into an empty net
After Bent's miss, Wright-Phillips had a shot touched onto the post by Wiese before Terry eventually struck with a brave header from Downing's cross from the left. The evening should have been an irrelevance, a non-event between two shadow teams but England's performance made it otherwise. There is something irresistible about beating Germany in Germany and it was no less sweeter last night.
Germany (4-4-2): Adler (Bayer Leverkusen); Friedrich (Hertha Berlin), Mertesacker (Werder Bremen), Westermann (Schalke), Compper (Hoffenheim); Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich), Jones (Schalke), Rolfes (Bayer Leverkusen), Trochowski (Hamburg); Klose (Bayern Munich), Gomez (Stuttgart). Substitutes used: Helmes (Bayer Leverkusen) for Klose, h-t, Marin (Borussia Monchengladbach) for Jones, h-t, Weise (Werder Bremen) for Adler, h-t, Podolski (Bayern Munich) for Gomez, 57, Tasci (Stuttgart) for Friedrich, 68, Schafer (Wolfsburg) for Compper, 77.
England (4-4-2): James (Portsmouth); Johnson (Portsmouth), Terry (Chelsea), Upson (West Ham), Bridge (Chelsea); Wright-Phillips (Manchester City), Carrick (Manchester United), Barry (Aston Villa), Downing (Middlesbrough); Agbonlahor (Aston Villa), Defoe (Portsmouth). Substitutes used: Bent (Tottenham) for Defoe, h-t, Carson for James, h-t, Young (Aston Villa) for Agbonlahor, 77, Crouch (Portsmouth) for Wright-Phillips, 90.
Referee: M Busacca (Switzerland).
Matthew Upson last night became the fourth defender to find the net for England in the last eight matches.
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