If England were hoping that the traditional pre-tournament cocktail of optimism and historical delusion would not accompany them to this summer’s European championships then fighting back from two goals down to overrun the world champions in Berlin with a last-minute victory might just have scuppered that plan.
A glorious night for a bold, resurgent Roy Hodgson team and undoubtedly the greatest hour for England’s manager of the last four years to see his team hunt down the famous Germany side of Toni Kroos, Manuel Neuer and Thomas Müller. It is a long time since we have seen an England team pursue victory as tenaciously as this against such a formidable opponent.
The winner from Eric Dier in the 90th minute meant that this turned into a victory to rank with the 5-1 ransacking of Germany in Munich in 2001, when, in the space of 90 minutes, a new generation of talented footballers raised expectations for the England team for the next decade.
Was this a new dawn too? And if so, what beckons? Certainly, it was telling that Wayne Rooney was not there and although his absence from such a fine performance will be used in some quarters as a stick to beat the England captain, the sensible reading of it is that – if we did not know by now – this side is a lot more than just their all-time leading goalscorer.
Quite simply, England, from two goals behind, and having lost their goalkeeper Jack Butland to injury, took the game to the Germans with a level of intensity which even this collection of all-conquering world champions could not live with. England struck back with a glorious goal from Harry Kane and then the substitute Jamie Vardy needed just three minutes on the pitch before he hit a brilliantly improvised equaliser.
All that and we have not even mentioned Dele Alli, who sparkled all night in the midfield for England and announced himself as a teenager who can thrive in the august company of some of the greatest players of the era.
All Hodgson needs to do know is find some way to mend the dysfunction that occasionally grips his defence and he might just be on to something.
“Absolutely annoying” was how Joachim Low described his emotions in throwing away a two-goal lead given to his side with goals from Kroos and Mario Gomez, although he stopped well short of saying that England had been lucky. Quite the contrary in fact, acknowledging that even when his side enjoyed a two-goal lead they were “never in control” of the game and that England deserved to win the game.
Hodgson selected a 4-3-3 formation that crunched back into a tight unit behind the ball when Germany were in possession. Not only that, but every time they saw the opportunity to do so, England came out quickly to hunt possession from the Germans and exert a press that was intended to be as tight in its grip as the one that the home side often imposed on them.
As the game seemed to slip away from his side, Hodgson risked more and more in pursuit of victory, throwing on Ross Barkley and Vardy who gave his team a directness that the Germans struggled to handle. There were fine performances too from his full-backs, the debutant Danny Rose on the left and Nathaniel Clyne on the right side.
There was not much time and very little space in that midfield but never once did that daunt Alli, whose default position was on the left side of a tight midfield three with Dier and Jordan Henderson. Alli had the No 10 on his back and his athleticism and remarkable confidence meant that he also played that role when the opportunity presented itself.
The worry for Hodgson was the ease with which his defence was opened up, especially the space between his centre-halves Gary Cahill and Chris Smalling on 26 minutes when Sami Khedira played in Mario Gomez and the Fiorentina striker, on loan at Besiktas, had a goal wrongly chalked off for offside.
Germany’s first goal, on 43 minutes, followed England’s usual succession of error and misfortune that is poison against an opponent of this quality.
Butland had injured his ankle minutes earlier when clearing a ball and despite being in discomfort had not stopped the game for treatment, a lesson that Hodgson later pointed out he should not forget.
Perhaps players as good as Kroos instinctively know when a goalkeeper is injured or immobilised and it certainly felt that the Real Madrid midfielder recognised Butland might not be able to react as quickly as he needed and beat him at his near post. Fraser Forster came on for Butland at the end of the first half and conceded the second before the hour.
One minute before then, England had their best opportunity to equalise when Danny Welbeck preyed on Emre Can, playing out of position at right-back, and pinched the ball from the Liverpool man on the touchline to set up Henderson who missed badly.
Unfortunately for England, within minutes they were two goals behind and forced to ask serious questions again of their defence when Gomez jumped between Cahill and Clyne to pop a close-range header way out of the reach of Forster. It did look rather grim for England then, two goals behind and exhibiting some familiar defensive frailties but all of a sudden their miraculous comeback was on.
Kane turned up with a brilliant strike from a corner won by the skill and determination of his Spurs team-mate Alli and the comeback began.
Retrieving the ball at the back post, Kane was travelling away from the Germany goal when he turned sharply and left Mesut Özil, for one, well beaten by the speed of his change of travel. Kane swayed wide of a second defender and made the space with his right foot to sweep the ball past Neuer.
Vardy’s equaliser followed a counter-attack of beauty. Using the inside of his heel, he eventually clipped in Clyne’s right-wing cross at the near post to beat Neuer, making the striker the first Leicester City player to score for England since Gary Lineker. The Germans finished the game well and truly rattled and on the back foot before Dier came in for the kill.