Sports

England matched Germany and Brazil but what was the point?

England kept out two of the world's best teams in Germany and Brazil… but there was so little ambition we will one day wonder: what was the point?

  • England drew 0-0 with both Germany and Brazil during the international break
  • But if they believe they are near the level of those sides the delusion will be fatal
  • Gareth Southgate's sides played with a pitiful level of ambition that will not do
  • Meanwhile, the World Cup will be all the poorer for the absence of the Azzurri

By Jeff Powell for the Daily Mail

Published: 22:31 GMT, 16 November 2017 | Updated: 23:53 GMT, 16 November 2017

Forget parking the bus.

Jose Mourinho has nothing on Gareth Southgate. The England manager docked a cruise liner in the Wembley goalmouth.

By so doing he enabled his players to keep two of the best teams in the world at bay.

Germany and Brazil were held to scoreless draws. Well, hooray for that.

Gareth Southgate's England drew 0-0 with Germany and Brazil during the international break

Gareth Southgate's England drew 0-0 with Germany and Brazil during the international break

The matches were advertised as the beginning of their preparations for the World Cup finals 

The matches were advertised as the beginning of their preparations for the World Cup finals

But one day we will look back on the two matches and wonder what on earth was the point

But one day we will look back on the two matches and wonder what on earth was the point

These matches were advertised as the beginning of England’s preparations for the World Cup finals in Russia.

Er, sort of.

One day next summer we will look back on this long November weekend in London and ask ourselves what on earth was the point?

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Either England will have produced a performance to suggest they have built a credible World Cup challenge on this very limited foundation. Or they will have played in the same constipated manner and been sent packing.

Let us pray it is the former. Although the gushing praise and self-congratulation which followed these two matches are not grounds for optimism.

If the hallelujahs encourage England to believe they are even approaching the same elite level as the Germans and Brazilians, as yet, the delusion will prove fatal.

The self-congratulation which followed the draws are not grounds for optimism for England

The self-congratulation which followed the draws are not grounds for optimism for England

Brazil dazzled at Wembley, with manager Tite claiming only 'one team wanted to win the game'

Brazil dazzled at Wembley, with manager Tite claiming only 'one team wanted to win the game'

Better a reality check now, than later.

Germany played within themselves and could have been four up by half-time, having sliced through the populous England defence with crisp movement ending with sharp incisions.

Still, manager Joachim Low admitted they will have to be quicker and more lethal come the real thing.

Brazil, in the Harlem Globetrotter mode they adopt for friendlies on tour, dazzled on the ball and defended with consummate ease against the occasional attempts at a counter-attack.

Manager Tite remarked: ‘One team wanted to win the game, the other wanted only to avoid losing it.’ Leaving it for his listeners to work out which was which.

Of the myriad lessons there to be learned, probably the most important came from the Brazilians.

Eric Dier and Co were given a tough time by Brazil, who hunt in packs and tackle like ferrets

Eric Dier and Co were given a tough time by Brazil, who hunt in packs and tackle like ferrets

The South American side have recovered well from their 7-1 defeat by Germany back in 2014

The South American side have recovered well from their 7-1 defeat by Germany back in 2014

The Germans, as fellow Europeans if we can still use that term, we knew much about already. Although the cultured technique and Teutonic will of the reigning world champions have been honed further by their current run of 21 matches without defeat.

The Brazilians, meanwhile, have made a startling recovery since being humiliated 7-1 by Germany in the 2014 World Cup semi-final in Belo Horizonte.

The beach-ball skills are as glorious as ever but they are wedded now to a lightning work ethic off the ball.

The speed with which they shift from possession to pressing opponents in every quarter of the pitch is bewildering. They hunt in packs and tackle like ferrets.

They are the football equivalent of New Zealand rugby. Like the All Blacks they train to be not only powerful but sleek of body, instant of acceleration and swift of movement.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek has probably not done enough to earn a starting berth in midfield

Ruben Loftus-Cheek has probably not done enough to earn a starting berth in midfield

By comparison most of the England players, with their barrel chests and bulging muscles – trademarks of the body-building obsession now pervading British sport – were robotic.

All had the ball stolen from them, repeatedly. The midfield unit which Germany had been willing to allow some space were over-run, including captain Eric Dier and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who had flattered to deceive against Germany, in the short time until he departed injured.

It probably makes sense to redeploy Dier as a creative central defender, since he lacks maneuverability under pressure in midfield.

It is doubtful Loftus-Cheek has done enough to dislodge Adam Lallana, Jordan Henderson or Harry Winks hereafter.

Not that this trio threatens to set the pulses racing. Even so, their absence brought home how the Brazilian experience was wasted on fringe players.

Harry Kane declined to face Brazil, something he would never have done in years gone by

Harry Kane declined to face Brazil, something he would never have done in years gone by

Southgate dishes out instructions to his side during their goalless draw with Germany

Southgate dishes out instructions to his side during their goalless draw with Germany

Much was made of how Southgate’s irregulars had dug in, held firm, battled it out. OK, they refused to surrender. But to what benefit in the medium or longer term?

A year or two ago Harry Kane would not have dreamed of declining to play against Brazil. And it is worth noting that he declared himself fit for England after Tottenham’s preceding Premier League match against Crystal Palace.

What he has to ask himself now is whether the chance of that privilege will come again. That question is all the more pointed – for himself, Deli Alli and Winks – as they return miraculously fit to the Spurs team this weekend.

Alright, the London derby at Arsenal is big in our club football. But will these three – and other withdrawers – forgive themselves if circumstances were to prevent them ever adding Brazil to their CVs?

Dele Alli and Co have returned miraculously to fitness to the Spurs team this weekend

Dele Alli and Co have returned miraculously to fitness to the Spurs team this weekend

From England’s World Cup viewpoint, theirs was vital first-hand education lost on Tuesday night.

The depletion of his squad did allow Southgate the get-out of picking teams which would have protected him from criticism had they been beaten.

They did better than that for him this time, garnering plaudits for their manager by avoiding defeat.

But such pitiful ambition will not do, next time. The World Cup will be virtually upon them by the time they reappear at Wembley next spring, against a grieving Italy.

Sorry, but it seems to need pointing out that England were at home. Yet until there was a bit of a scramble in the Brazilian box in the last minute the loudest cheers that night came whenever England managed to cross the halfway line.

That is not good enough anywhere. Least of all at Wembley.

Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup after being beaten by Sweden in their play-off

Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup after being beaten by Sweden in their play-off

Italy’s loss is football’s, also. No gloating please.

Russia 2018 will be all the poorer for the absence of the Azzurri. As it has been on those miserable occasions when England failed to qualify.

The World Cup needs the great nations at that highest of all football tables.

Yet Brazil stand alone in appearing in all the final tournaments.

There is a solution. One rooted in respect for the history of the greatest game.

It is to give automatic places to all previous winners.

The finals in Russia will be all the poorer for the absence of Leonardo Bonucci and the Azzurri

The finals in Russia will be all the poorer for the absence of Leonardo Bonucci and the Azzurri

It is not too many. Just eight: Brazil (five-time champions), Italy and Germany (4 titles each), Argentina and Uruguay (2 apiece), England, Spain and France (1 each).

FIFA and the national associations may object to the loss of revenue from the qualifying competition but that would be more than compensated for by guaranteed heavy ticket sales for the finals.

It would also sharpen the hopes and ambitions of all the other nations, while giving the giants time to rebuild through each four-year cycle free from pressure.

For me, it’s a no-brainer. But does football have the brains?

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