England v Germany. Not a sporting occasion that always brings out the best in Her Majesty’s Tabloid Press.
Sitting here, I am surrounded by the efforts of 300+ young people in their recent GCSE History exam.
A number of the questions on that paper rake over Britain’s stormy relationship with Germany in the 20th Century, a relationship that is about to be tested again at Bloemfontein on Sunday.
The little mites have been tested on the Anglo-German Naval Race, Hitler’s occupation of Austria and Dunkirk, while our footballers will be tested by Mesut Ozil, Philip Lahm and Lukas Podolski. Some of the candidates have not done so well in their tests with the Germans and I fear that the footballers may well be heading for a similar fate as the student who confused the evacuation from Dunkirk with the evacuation of children from towns and cities and had children filing off the beaches with their labels and suitcases on to paddle steamers. No marks, I’m afraid, and he did not enter the next level.
I saw both games today and the difference between the sides in Group C and those in Group D was interesting. England probably deserved to win, against a country with two million people and 500 registered professional footballers, but didn’t we make hard work of it?
There were some positives that could be taken. Defoe gave the forward line the mobility it craved (although he disappeared after 55 minutes) and he took his goal in Bent like fashion. Milner played well and put in some telling crosses. Cole (A) got forward and defended effectively, but there was not a great deal of crispness or thrust about the team.
Rooney turned in a marginally better performance, but he does far too much and gets in the way of other players. There was a sluggishness about the performance that, if repeated on Sunday, could mark the end of the tournament for Don Fabio and his boys.
Towards the end, as Slovenia pushed forward for an equaliser, some of the defending was panicky and reminiscent of what we often see at the Stadium. It took a fine block from Upson to prevent Slovenia from levelling with a few minutes left and had he not made that challenge, it would have been goodbye to South Africa and hello to a pelting with rotten fruit on the return to Heathrow.
I felt for Slovenia at the end, thwarted by a last minute goal by the weird Landon Donovan. His comments after the game were typically American (“If you do things the right way, you get your reward” and then he started blubbing, for God’s sake), but they kept on until the end and I suppose their resilience was rewarded.
On to the evening games and I really enjoyed Germany v Ghana. Both sides played crisp, attacking football and it was settled by a magnificent strike from the aforementioned Mesut Ozil. They are an interesting mixture of youth and experience who could unsettle the creaking bones of JT and his little chums.
One player whose bones were creaking was John Mensah. Once again, he was a rock in the middle of the Black Stars defence, never straying too far from the middle but making sure that he got his foot in whenever it was needed. He made one tackle as Germany broke away towards the end and you just knew he was going to win the ball. Such a good player, I would love to see him in a red and white striped shirt with Tombola on the front next season.
Well, I suppose we will have four days of allegedly humourous headlines about wars, sausages, chopped cabbage and penalty shoot outs. Those of us who cringe at this kind of thing will keep a low profile and hope that Anglo-German relations have been maintained for when Mr Horan and I visit Hoffenheim in August. The new season approaches.