International friendlies are notorious for their typical drab offering of turgid football played out by two disinterested sides, punctuated with a constant stream of substitutions and formation changes.
One needs to look no further than England’s dull 1-0 win over Netherlands on Friday night for an example. Yet tonight’s other marquee match showcased what international friendlies are all about.
Germany and Spain played out an entertaining 1-1 draw in Düsseldorf, in a match between two of the world’s finest teams in front of a sold-out and boisterous crowd.
Flowing, attacking football was a constant fixture throughout the ninety minutes, and it truly felt like the entertaining spectacle that the match was billed to be.
Yet the sad reality is that friendlies such as these are rarities. Often when two international heavyweights meet with nothing at stake, little ambition is on display.
Nonetheless, both the Germans and the Spaniards threw caution to the wind and set out to attack and play with passion.
With just under 100 days until the World Cup kicks off in June, this international break is the perfect opportunity for fringe players to stake their place for a spot on the plane to Russia.
This contributed to the surprising urgency of the match, with players in both squads determined to prove their worth.
An, of course, by far the biggest treat when these two continental superpowers meet is the star talent.
David de Gea and Marc-Andre ter Stegen revealed why they are the best goalkeepers in their respective domestic leagues, saving a dizzying array of attempts- allowing just two combined goals on 17 shots.
The artistry of both midfields was a joy to watch, with Isco, Iniesta, Koke, Thiago, and David Silva facilitating the famous Spanish possession style.
On the German side, Mesut Ozil offered a plethora of delicate touches, while Timo Werner was constantly threatening with his searing pace and intelligent decision-making in the final third.
The enthralling battle between two footballing giants was a perfect advert for the upcoming World Cup.
With only 83 days until the opening match, Germany and Spain proved there is much to look forward to this summer.
World Cup One To Watch: Germany’s 22-year-old striker Timo Werner
The Germany international will be a player to keep an eye out for in Russia.
RB Leipzig striker Timo Werner is Germany’s first-choice striker going into the 2018 FIFA World Cup and one of the most coveted young forwards in Europe.
The 22-year-old has been tasked with the responsibility of leading the line for the tournament holders in Russia after netting 13 times and providing eight assists in 32 Bundesliga outings this season.
Should he approach the summer in the same manner as the rest of his career to date, he could really stamp his authority on the World Cup.
To see who else features in The Boot Room’s World Cup Ones to Watch series, click here.
Who is he?
After becoming the youngest player ever to feature for VfB Stuttgart’s first team, Werner completed a €10 million move to RB Leipzig on the back of the club’s maiden promotion to the Bundesliga.
In his debut season for the Saxony-based side, in which he scored an impressive 21 goals in 31 appearances, he would go on to become the youngest ever to reach 100 and 150 Bundesliga games.
While he was considered a talent at Stuttgart, his prowess has seen him reach new heights with his current club. Playing among a creative cast at Leipzig, featuring Liverpool-bound Naby Keita and Emil Forsberg among others, Werner has excelled.
After a runners-up finish last term, his goals this season have helped Ralph Hasenhüttl’s men to maintain their challenge for a second successive top-four finish in the Bundesliga, all the while hunting for glory in the Europa League.
What is his international experience/record?
Werner has played for the German youth national teams throughout his career thus far, scoring 34 goals in 48 matches between Under-15 and Under-21 level.
At the age of 21, he would make his debut for Joachim Löw’s senior side, starting alongside Lukas Podolski in a 1-0 victory over England in Dortmund. He had little luck on that occasion, but he has since shown his ability to grow into the role.
Proving himself more than capable of reproducing his club form on the international stage, Werner collected the Golden Boot as the Germans followed their World Cup triumph with success at last summer’s FIFA Confederations Cup.
To date, the Leipzig youngster has accrued eight goals in 14 games for his country – a total that will surely increase with his involvement in Russia.
Why will he be a breakout World Cup star?
“If Timo Werner stays fit, I believe he will be the top scorer of the World Cup”, former Germany international Mario Basler said of the 22-year-old, back in 2017.
Die Mannschaft will go into the summer’s showpiece as favourites to retain their world crown and, with Werner leading the line, they will be a fearsome prospect for any opposition.
Despite his young years, the Leipzig forward already possesses a wealth of experience and has deservedly established himself as Germany’s first choice front-man.
Considering his record at club level, one just has to consider the damage he could do with the likes of Leroy Sane, Mesut Özil, Thomas Muller Toni Kroos in support.
A lethal finisher, Werner has developed into one of the greatest talents in his home country and will relish the prospect of leading Löw’s side to a second successive World Cup success.
Himself, a firm believer that Germany are favourites for the upcoming tournament, the Leipzig striker is sending all the right messages suggesting he is ready to hit the ground running.
What is his future after the World Cup?
While most ardent footballer advocates will instantly recognise his name, this summer could be moment Werner experiences a meteoric rise on the global stage.
Leipzig sporting director Ralf Rangnick has already expressed just how difficult it would be to replace a player like the 22-year-old, which means he would come at some price.
In an interview with FourFourTwo, earlier in March of this year, he explained that of the two aforementioned Premier League clubs, Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils would be his preferred choice.
Nonetheless, Werner remains adamant that a summer switch is not part of his plans and, with his current contract running through to 2020, his future seemingly lies with Leipzig.
To see who else features in The Boot Room’s World Cup Ones to Watch series, click here.
Has Leroy Sané been wrongfully dropped from Germany’s World Cup squad?
The 22-year-old will not be featuring in Russia.
It was today announced that the 22-year-old – who made Joachim Löw’s original 27-man provisional team – did not make the official 23-man tournament squad. This arguably comes as the biggest shock of the squad announcements so far.
Sané made 40 appearances this season in all competitions for City, scoring 14 goals and gaining 19 assists along the way in what was undoubtedly the best season of his career.
His performances and statistics were enough to gain him the Premier League’s ‘Young Player of the Year Award’ for the 2017/18 season, further adding to the surprise of his absence from Löw’s World Cup squad.
Germany’s record in recent tournaments is as unquestionable as the strength and depth they have within their squad. To make the final cut of Löw’s World Cup team is a feat within itself and Sané deserved that accolade this summer.
Making the squad at the expense of Sané; Mesut Özil (Arsenal), Sebastian Rudy (Bayern Munich), Julian Draxler (PSG), Mario Gomez (Stuttgart) and Timo Werner (RB Leipzig).
Sané has similar attributes to these five players which is why it is difficult to comprehend any argument for the City wingers absence.
With the exception of Leipzig’s Werner, all of the above scored fewer goals last season than Sané and, on top of that, every player also had far fewer assists than the City winger, with the next closest to him being Arsenal’s Özil with 12 (seven behind).
In fact, if you add Rudy, Draxler and Gomez’s assists together (13), you’d still have six fewer than Sane’s. Combine all of the major statistics relevant to an attacking midfielder/forward’s role, Sané is ahead of every name on this list.
It obviously isn’t all about the statistics, however, and when you consider the calibre of attacking teammates Sané had to work with this season, it is understandable why his personal statistics are so high.
However, a World Cup squad should be the 23 best men at that time to represent their country.
When you consider the jaw-dropping football Manchester City played in this record breaking Premier League season – and Sané’s significant impact in that – surely it is inconceivable to think that he is not within the best 23 players of his nation.
It is difficult to second guess an international manager with the record of Joachim Löw. However, compile all of the statistical evidence with the eye test and it is difficult to understand how Leroy Sané will not be representing Germany in Russia this month.
Three talking points as England earned a credible draw against Germany
England ramped up their World Cup preparations with a friendly match against long-time rivals Germany at Wembley Stadium. Despite a number of drop-outs earlier this week, the Three Lions managed to deliver a confident performance and the match finished goalless. It wasn’t a bore 0-0, as both teams had chances to score, but a draw was probably a fair result. Gareth Southgate will have learned a lot about his players on Friday evening, especially those making their debuts. Here are three talking points from the match:
Ruben Loftus-Cheek is a contender to make the World Cup squad
It was a pleasant surprise last week when Gareth Southgate named his squad for the upcoming friendlies, as he dropped players that hadn’t performed for England and replaced them with young, hungry players with potential. Ruben Loftus-Cheek wouldn’t have expected to be in the running for an England call-up at this stage of his career. He has had a promising start to a loan spell at Crystal Palace, but this was an early call-up.
Southgate knows the midfielder from his time as Under-21 manager and his decision to call up Loftus-Cheek looks a great one. The 21-year-old was positive in possession and played several forward passes that created good openings for the home side. Although none of them led to goals, the midfielder did cause problems for the world champions and looked at home at this level. He will need to show consistency and deliver at club level to remain in the manager’s thoughts, but this was a great start to life as an international player.
Leroy Sane is one of the best young players in the world
The Manchester City winger has been wowing the English public since moving to join Pep Guardiola’s side last summer. There are some that think he is helped by the players he is surrounded by at the Etihad Stadium and that might be true, but he is a great player in his own right and he showed that on Friday. Germany threatened a lot in the first half and their best player was Leroy Sane.
The quick-footed winger hit the bar in the first half with a great strike from distance, while he also saw an effort cleared off the line by Phil Jones. Defenders know what he is going to do when he gets the ball, but it is almost impossible to stop. Sane continues to develop on a weekly basis at Manchester City and this performance showed that he is going to be just as important for his country this summer.
Jordan Pickford staked his claim to be number one
The England goalkeeper’s position has been widely debated since Euro 2016, as Joe Hart has been on a downwards curve. He was initially dropped by Manchester City and has since been sent on two loan spells. The 30-year-old has failed to look as dominant as he once did at either Torino or West Ham United and that has opened up a possibility of England changing their goalkeeper ahead of the World Cup.
Jack Butland is many people’s favourite to take the jersey, but Jordan Pickford was selected on Friday and he gave a very good showing of himself. The Everton goalkeeper made three or four great stops to keep his clean sheet and looked at home on the international stage. He took the step up in his stride and that is an encouraging sign for the future. It may come too soon for him to be the number one in Russia, but this display puts him firmly in contention.
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