Monday 19 February 2018

England may have a team to outshine golden generation

Eric Dier celebrates after scoring England’s late winner. Photo: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters
Eric Dier celebrates after scoring England’s late winner. Photo: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters
England's Eric Dier, Nathaniel Clyne and Dele Alli celebrate after the game. Photo: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters
Jamie Vardy celebrates scoring the second goal for England. Photo: Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters
England's Dele Alli in action with Germany's Mesut Ozil. Photo: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters

Tim Rich

For England's Golden Generation, Berlin's Olympic Stadium was journey's end. It was where they would contest and win the 2006 World Cup. It would form the golden backdrop to autobiographies that Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Rio Ferdinand would release a couple of months later.

It was, like many things under Sven Goran Eriksson, an illusion. England never got anywhere near the World Cup final and the only bit of Germany they made famous was Garibaldi's, a rather nondescript Italian restaurant in Baden Baden, which their wives and girlfriends used as their base.

Now, for another generation of English footballers, Berlin represented a beginning, the start of the countdown for a squad that is slightly younger and probably slightly less talented than the one that set off for Germany a decade ago.

It might, however, achieve a lot more in this summer's European Championship than the Golden Generation ever came close to in the long, hot summer of 2006. To come back from two goals down to win any international is exceptional. To do it against the world champions in their own capital is by any measure one of the great nights of Roy Hodgson's time as England manager.

Hodgson has been a lucky manager - fortunate not to have been fired the moment the squad touched down from Brazil in the wake of the worst World Cup in England's history, the one won by Germany in the Maracana.

However, the sobering 2-0 defeat to Spain in Alicante in November apart, Hodgson has done very little wrong. Michel Platini's decision to bloat the European Championship with eight additional teams meant that some - and England are one - had very straightforward qualification routes.

The question the friendlies against Spain, France, Germany and the Netherlands was supposed to answer was how good this England team could be. The answer is potentially very good indeed.

This was a night that emphasised the eclipse of Manchester as England's leading football city. Hodgson selected three from Liverpool and for the first time since 1987, when they finished third in the championship, Tottenham found themselves with four players in an England starting line-up.

All would have travelled home from a prestige occasion feeling buoyed. You could argue that when he deployed his Cruyff turn - in this of all weeks - and drove his shot into the corner of Manuel Neuer's net, Harry Kane was facing Germany's second-choice centre-halves. The shot, however, was driven with the kind of geometric precision that would have beaten any goalkeeper on the planet.

Long before his header slammed in the most improbable of winners, Eric Dier had excelled as a holding midfielder. Danny Rose's debut was everything he might have expected. But for Neuer's outstretched boot, Dele Alli would have joined the two others from White Hart Lane on the scoresheet. Had he not scored, Alli's one error would have been the scoop over the bar that, but for Dier, seemed certain to be England's lost winner

When Hodgson compared Alli to Bryan Robson there were several raised eyebrows since the young midfielder's game is nothing like as physical and robust as the man who gloried in the nickname of "Captain Marvel". However, in Berlin, Alli demonstrated the commitment to a tackle and his fearlessness in shooting that was the very essence of Robson's game.

At 19 Alli has, however, been given his chance far earlier than Robson - who was ignored for the 1980 European Championships a year after he had driven West Bromwich Albion to third in the league.

West Germany won Euro 80 and many might expect Germany to win Euro 2016, although since winning the greatest prize in world sport in Rio, Joachim Low's side have faltered.

Many do after lifting the World Cup. Italy, who lifted the trophy in this stadium, were a shadow of the same side in Euro 2008 and had disintegrated entirely by the time the next World Cup came around in South Africa.

Philipp Lahm and Per Mertesacker retired immediately afterwards while Mario Gotze, who scored the precious winner in the Maracana, is spending an awful lot of time on the Bayern Munich bench. Low may regret his decision not to cash in his chips and seek a lucrative offer from club football after breaking the bank in Rio.


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