WE’VE come a long way since the last competitive meeting between England and Germany 11 years ago.
Most people remember that humiliating 4-1 defeat in Bloemfontein at the 2010 World Cup for Frank Lampard’s ‘ghost goal’ which was chalked off despite being two yards over the line.
But my keenest memory of that miserable Sunday afternoon was a conversation a few of us had with Joe Cole, perhaps the most technically gifted player of England’s ‘golden generation’, who had failed to start a game at that tournament.
It is fascinating to look back at Cole’s searingly honest words to remind us that, whatever the result of Tuesday’s Euros last-16 clash, English football is no longer the embarrassment it was then.
This current England team are so well-schooled and comfortable on the ball that Pep Guardiola is keen on signing most of them.
That was categorically not the case back in 2010, when Fabio Capello’s men were comprehensively out-thought and outclassed by a German side — orchestrated by Mesut Ozil — who would go on to be world champions four years later.
Back then, Cole told us: “It is obvious that we lack the qualities you need to be successful at international level. We don’t keep the ball as well as other countries.
“Over the course of the tournament we looked a long way behind the other top nations and when it came to the crunch, the best side won.
“People will talk about the decision not to allow Frank’s goal but it was plain and simple to see that we just weren’t good enough.
“Almost every team I have played for — including England — always want to hit the front players as early as possible.
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“You won’t get away with that at international level. It’s about technique, keeping control of the ball, passing and moving.
“We seem to abandon good technique because we are obsessed with getting the ball from back to front as quickly as possible. That doesn’t work against top teams.
“No one pulls the England shirt on with more pride than me but we’ve got to face up to the reality of it all. We’re just not good enough.
“Maybe it’s time to really look at how we’re teaching kids to play.”
Cole never played for England again after he spoke those words. Aged 28, and after 56 caps, he was abandoned.
Yet the FA were on exactly the same page as him — and English football has enjoyed an age of tactical enlightenment since then.
England’s age-group teams have been drilled in possession football.
They won the Under-17 and Under-20 World Cups and they no longer rely on empty talk of ‘passion’ and bulldog spirit.
If England are beaten by Germany, nobody will be echoing Cole’s words from 11 years ago.
Gareth Southgate will have no such excuses. There will be no talk of systemic failure and none of those ‘root-and-branch’ reviews we were always promised in the post-mortem of another tournament debacle.
England are capable of beating Germany now. They go into this one as equals, with home advantage making them narrow favourites.
If Southgate’s men lose, it may be because the manager or his players weren’t brave enough, because of individual mistakes, because of misfortune. But not because they simply aren’t good enough.
England are nothing like a rigid 4-4-2, route-one team of 2010.
And English footballers are no longer habitually embarrassed by technically superior opponents who often seemed to be playing an entirely different game.
You only need to ask Manchester City boss Guardiola, the high priest of football purism, about that.
Back in 2010, Guardiola was reaching his peak as Barcelona manager and, Lampard aside, there weren’t any Englishmen being linked with moves to the Nou Camp.
Yet last month, Guardiola named John Stones, Kyle Walker, Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden in his starting line-up for the Champions League final.
And in the last week, City have reportedly made bids for Harry Kane, Jack Grealish and Reece James.
Guardiola wouldn’t say no to Mason Mount, Declan Rice or Jude Bellingham either, because they are all good enough to play for City.
Even keeper Jordan Pickford is capable of Edersonian passes.
And Guardiola was also furious when City failed to match Manchester United in a bidding war to land Harry Maguire two years ago.
If English players are trusted, and coveted, to such an extent, we have made huge strides since Cole’s gloomy state-of-the-nation address in 2010.
England may lose to Germany again today but there will be no excuse for being played off the park.