Wagner on song for German U-21s
Stuart Pearce's England Under-21s were defeated in the UEFA European Under-21 Championship final in Malmo on a familiar evening that featured a goalkeeping error and an impressive German victory. Mesut Ozil's long-range free-kick left stand-in goalkeeper Scott Loach with little recourse, but England were already trailing at that stage to Gonzalo Castro's opener at Swedbank Stadion.
Sandro Wagner then added two late goals to continue Pearce's jinx against Germany, after losing to them twice as a player in major tournaments. Just as well senior coach Fabio Capello could not get a connecting flight to Sweden from the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009, as this match had too many reminders of past failures.
At senior level, England's clashes against Germany have created so many memories - FIFA World Cup™ victory for Sir Alf Ramsey's men, Paul Gascoigne's tears, penalties and that famous night in Munich when it ended 5-1. This match for England's youngsters was defined by the fact that Pearce had Gabriel Agbonlahor and Fraizer Campbell suspended, meaning Theo Walcott was the lone striker and had little support.
Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer did not make a save throughout the one-sided match, leaving Pearce to rue leaving Daniel Sturridge with the Under-20s. Germany landed the first psychological punch when they opted to play in red despite being the "home" team, meaning England would not be wearing the colours of their finest hour, when Bobby Moore lifted the Jules Rimet Trophy. Pearce, in any case, urged his youngsters to forget the past and make a new history, one where England would hold their nerve to the end, unlike Italy 1990 and Euro 1996 when the Under-21 coach was a player.
By defeating Sweden on penalties on Friday, they got over their spot-kick hoodoo in semi-finals, but facing Germany at the end of a tournament is something altogether different. Pearce, so intense and focused during the tournament, also had Joe Hart suspended, so Loach started in goal, and his first real action concluded with him picking the ball out of the net midway through the first half.
Ozil was the architect, receiving the ball from Fabian Johnson before running at the England defence and playing a through-ball between Martin Cranie and Loach. It was perfectly weighted for Castro, who stabbed the ball over Loach and in.
Firmly in control
With their confidence bolstered, Germany full-back Sebastian Boenisch tried his luck from 30 yards and whistled a drive just wide of Loach's post. Germany looked comfortable shifting the ball around and giving England's defence problems. There had already been a warning before the opener when Micah Richards prevented danger, blocking after Sami Khedira had pulled the ball back for Ozil.
England had hoped to unleash Walcott's pace on the Germans, but it proved difficult. He did get an early chance when Fabrice Muamba started a swift counter-attack with an intelligent pass and James Milner played the ball through, but Walcott sliced his finish wide of the near post. That was as close as it got for England in the first half, then three minutes after the restart Germany grabbed their second.
Michael Mancienne, on at the break for Nedum Onuoha, fouled Wagner 35 yards from goal and Ozil took charge of the set-piece. The Werder Bremen playmaker was helped by England's wall falling apart and Loach could not handle the swerving effort, falling too far to his right before getting a palm on the ball and helping it in.
"C'mon now it's getting serious," barked Pearce on the touchline, urging his youngsters to dig deep and find a way back into the game.
Lee Cattermole tried his best, skimming the bar from long distance when he was given time on the ball. Then Milner left Boenisch on his backside with a piece of trickery before pulling the ball back for Adam Johnson, whose finish was cleared off the line by Andreas Beck.
When Milner fooled Boenisch again, the defender clattered him on the touchline, right in front of Pearce, who clenched his fists angrily at the German. It was pure frustration from Pearce as the match drifted away from his youngsters.
Cattermole had an effort cleared off the line, but Germany extended their lead with 11 minutes remaining. Ozil nicked the ball in midfield before marauding forward and releasing Wagner, who finished through Loach's legs. Wagner then added the fourth, in the 84th minute, curling into the far corner neatly following a counter-attack.