“Blood, toil, tears and sweat”, Churchill once promised. Tonight at Wembley, Commander-in-Chief Southgate, supremo of the England football team, demanded it. His troops certainly gave him toil and sweat, there were fortunately no tears and no blood was spilled in battle, yet there was so much more.
Whilst the England Under 17’s team paraded their age group World Cup on the pitch at half time, their slightly older cadets distinguished themselves for the full national side on the bigger stage. Uninhibited by previous disappointments, seemingly not affected by stage fright, they bestrode Wembley’s lush turf with a certain confidence and really took the game to the current ‘senior’ World Champions.
Whilst not perfect, which can hardly be expected for players so early in their international careers, the likes of Joe Gomez, Tammy Abraham and goalkeeper Jordan Pickford all distinguished themselves. Kieran Trippier, captain Eric Dier, Harry Maguire and Jake Livermore, giving his best performance in an England shirt, were not far behind.
Yet it was Ruben Loftus-Cheek who really caught the eye. He stole the show and was rightly given the Man of the Match award. Upright, deceptively strong, silky smooth and possessing that greatest of qualites, time on the ball. Gliding across the turf, purring through the gears like a high performance sports car, he gave an absolute masterclass.
However, the evening was not all about England. The Germans cut swathes through the English defence at times, especially in the first half, and Leroy Sane in particular was a constant thorn, forcing Pickford into some very decent saves, as well as hitting the crossbar with a delicious left footed curling effort.
In the second half, Germany largely dominated possession with their neat precise one touch football, not dissimilar to the style of football played on a weekly basis by their very own Mesut Ozil’s Arsenal yet on this occasion with little end product. England’s defence improved immeasurably after the break as they became more comfortable with each other, the style of play and the formation adopted by their governor.
Indeed England arguably had the better of the chances in the second period. Jamie Vardy could so easily have scored with a header and right at the death, Jesse Lingard swung his boot at a loose ball which fell at his feet following a free kick, yet he ballooned it over.
So the battle ended honours even. Heads held high all round. For England, a good evening, when they could so easily have beaten the World Champions. The cheek of it.