Tomorrow’s last 16 tie with the old enemy has been billed by German coach Joachim Low as a battle between ‘youthful lightness and international class’. He boasts that his young side will be flushed with confidence after winning their group and unencumbered by previous failure on the international stage.
To some extent he’s correct, most of the players who are expected to trot out at the Free State Stadium tomorrow afternoon on the German side are virgins to the World Cup and of an age where they barely remember their nation’s triumphs over the mighty England in 1990 and 1996. We will have to discard the psychological demons that threaten to derail our World Cup campaign if we are to send our European neighbours home early.
What he means by international class is experience. At least half of our starting XI will have been involved in our untimely exit at the hands of the Portuguese four years ago and will be desperate to end what is likely to be there last campaign on a high.
It will make for an intriguing encounter no doubt and so here are my predictions for the starting line up in Blomfontein tomorrow.
David James will almost certainly start between the sticks. He has more than ably taken over from Robert Green by keeping two clean sheets and will have the confidence of Fabio Capello and his teammates to keep out both Klose and Podolski. Expect to see John Terry and Matthew Upson line up just in front of him as Fabio has opted for pace in dropping Carragher and who could forget Terry’s heroic acrobatics against Slovenia.
Ashley Cole has been described as England’s ‘silent reassurance’. In my eyes he has been our most consistent performer and frequently does the job of two people with our persistant failure to find a standout candidate for the left wing. He will have his work cut out against German skipper Philipp Lahm and will need to give Gerrard enough support to allow him roam infield.
Glen Johnson has done little wrong on the right and interlinked well with James Milner during our win over Slovenia on Wednesday.
Captain fantastic Steven Gerrard looks likely to be given his favoured position on the left of midfield. He is not a traditional bye-line hugging winger by any means but he is unrivalled in his ability to cut inside and spot a pass whilst Cole will be given the job of marauding straight down the wing. Quite rightly the Germans are more wary of him than most and will well-remember his tendency to shoot from range as in Munich in 2001.
Gareth Barry executed his task as holding midfielder admirably against Slovenia after looking sluggish against Algeria. He is integral to our success tomorrow in allowing Lampard and Gerrard the freedom to roam whilst also man marking dangerman Bastian Schweinsteiger. Frank Lampard has had a record 33 shots in World Cups without scoring and we all pray that he manages to break his duck tomorrow. He is first up to my mind should it go to penalties.
I had extreme doubts over James Milner following his inept showing against the USA but the decision to swap him over to the right flank seems to have done him wonders. He got an impressive number of crosses into the area against Slovenia and can hopefully repeat the linkup he made with Defoe to put us ahead tomorrow.
The only surprise and slightly contentious choice in my selection would be the soon to be Tottenham player, Joe Cole. Doubts persist over Wayne Rooney’s fitness which has without a doubt affected his touch. A burst from the subs’ bench would suit him best, should we need it, as his attributes of speed and aggression are wasted if his ankle is giving him jip. His off-target and off-balance 30 yard shots do not serve England particularly well and his physical presence may be just what is needed if we are locked in stalemate with 10 minutes to go.
Joe Cole looked sharp when he came on against Slovenia playing just behind Defoe and then Heskey and fully deserves a chance after limited usage in the group stages.
Jermaine Defoe showed the country just why Harry thinks the world of him by ghosting in front of his marker to put us through to the last 16.
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