The “what if” game played so often by football fans is a tantalizing and ultimately futile enterprise. Still, imagine a world in which Frank Lampard’s delightful lobbed effort, which landed a good foot over the goal line, had been given. Thirty-five minutes of German dominance would have been neatly swept under the carpet and a rejuvenated England side could have looked forward to a concerted period of pressure against a shaky back line. Such a scenario is enticing but essentially irrelevant. The better team won.
For a nation so defined by it’s footballing identity a defeat in the manner of the 4-1 loss to Germany will slice deep. The so called “Golden Generation” has now come to it’s peak in the most desolate of circumstances. Introspection, inquest and an extensive post mortem will follow. All will lead to to the same conclusion. Despite having some of the most talented individuals in the world as a national side England are little better than average.
And how they were made to look so by a German side rich in verve and short on fear, bristling with the arrogance of youth and passion. Mesut Ozil was inspired, Bastian Schweinstiger resplendent and the rest of the German team simply adequate to defeat an England side which rarely got going. But for David James Germany could have inflicted a humiliation on a scale that would have made 4-1 look like a lucky escape.
From the outset the Germans were the more dangerous and despite protestations from the media that few of their players would have made the starting eleven even Fabio Capello would have been hard pressed to exclude anyone other than their shocking pair of centre backs. Arne Friedrich and Christoph Mertesacke got off lightly today.
Their sleep would have been restless last night with visions of a marauding Wayne Rooney and a rampant Steven Gerrard. The reality was far more comfortable with England’s two most talented players pushed firmly to the periphery. Rooney has been a constant disappointment at these finals showing none of the qualities that make him so feared in the domestic game. Gerrard, isolated and uncomfortable on the left, likewise. Serious questions will be asked of Fabio Capello and his ability to seemingly leave his players devoid of the natural talent which they so clearly possess.
Tactically he was found wanting again firstly in taking James Milner off for Joe Cole at 2-1. The Chelsea man can be effective for England but as a right winger Milner had made Jerome Boateng look average all day. If Cole’s guile had been employed on the left to free Steven Gerrard it would have made the filling of a wide position with a player of little pace less of an evil. Instead Fabio did nothing of the kind, blindly ploughing on with a formation and system that stymied rather than set free.
His head will be called for but is it worth £10 million to put it on a platter for a baying media? If it brings in an England manager whose first reaction is not to bring on Emile Heskey for the best English finisher when 3-1 down then perhaps.
The reaction to such a defeat will be gargantuan. So poor were England that I would not expect even the tabloid press, usually so content in finding a scape goat, to lead with Lampard’s goal injustice. They will lead with how poor England were. They will lead with how they looked disinterested when behind. They will lead with how, yet again, England made a nation of hopeful fans disconsolate, angry and frustrated. Strangely for them, they will be bang on.