To fans of the England team, there is no nation that serves as a barometer of the team’s standing quite like Germany does. Over the decades there have been so many critical, and at times era defining, clashes between the two that means England’s rises and falls can be measured by their successes and failures against Germany.
From the propaganda clash in Berlin in 1938, through to the World Cup final of 1966, England were once dominant. Conversely, losses in the quarter finals of the 1970 World Cup and the 1972 European Championship signalled the end of England’s glory years and marked the descent of a decade of despair. For West Germany, as they were then, those same clashes paved the way for their rise to true greatness. Add in the 1990 World Cup, Euros 96 and 2000 and the World Cup of 2010 and there is always a narrative of decline and fall to tell in the important meetings of these two teams.
The level of German dominance over recent decades makes the rivalry rather one-way nowadays as England have frequently sought to emulate the levels of performance and success of Germany. As they face each other once again in Berlin this Saturday, it’s only a friendly international, but the aforementioned barometer idea is still relevant.
The ease of England’s qualification for Euro 2016 has brought about a policy of arranging tough friendlies. In November there was a loss to Spain and a win over France. Now it is Germany and then the Netherlands. England are testing themselves against some of the best – the types of teams against which England generally come unstuck when it matters most. From this perspective this friendly is an important benchmark for England.
They will be without the injured Joe Hart in goal, but that gives an opportunity for one of their more than capable deputies: Fraser Forster or Jack Butland. More intriguingly, there are potential appearances for some of the Premier League’s star turns this season. Leicester’s Jamie Vardy and Danny Drinkwater have more than earned their places, while Tottenham’s Delle Alli is in exciting form and links up wonderfully well with his club-mate Harry Kane who is in rich goal-scoring form. If Roy Hodgson can harness their exciting talents then England can make some progress. This match will be a valuable measure of that.
Germany, on the other hand, struggled a bit in qualifying in a tough group although they rose to the top in the end. Joachim Low has named a strong and experienced squad featuring many of the same names who won the World Cup in 2014, plus a few new stars. They will be without Bastian Schweinsteiger die to injury, though his form at Manchester United is some way below his previous best.
There are potential issues in defence however. Injuries to Jerome Boateng and Benedikt Howedes have meant a first call-up for Jonathan Tah of Bayer Leverkusen. Germany’s stuttering qualification means that their WGF ranking is a little lower than England’s given their recent form. That leaves England slightly favoured in this match, albeit by less than a goal based on the WGF ratings.
This match may be part the first step on 2016’s build-up to the summer, and is something of a phoney war as a result, but it will provide some indication of whether England’s fine form can be maintained against a better class of opposition, or if the old failings whenever the Three Lions come face to face with a better team are still present. For Germany, it is a first chance of the year to correct the stumbles of their qualification and set themselves on the correct path to a tournament they will naturally be strongly favoured to win.
Poland vs. Finland
Also playing on Saturday are the team that gave Germany the most trouble in European qualifying, and are currently rated higher in the WGF standings; Poland. With the prolific presence up front of Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski, and a selection of other well regarded players such as Jakub Blaszczykowski and Kamil Grosicki, Poland have flattered to deceive in recent years. They haven’t been to a World Cup since 2002 and only went to the last Euro finals as hosts before stumbling out at the group stage, usurped in the standings by Greek grit.
But this is a maturing squad reaching what should be the peak of its most potent players. A win over Finland is as expected as it is probable. Poland are one of Europe’s most in-form national teams, as shown by our rankings, and should continue this form in Saturday’s friendly match against a lowly rated Finland. If they are to finally realise their potential, then a resounding win ought to be on the cards.