Pride on the line as England hosts Germany in WCup warmup

BERLIN (AP) — Two teams with battered pride face each other at Wembley Stadium on Monday as England hosts Germany for a World Cup audition in the Nations League.

England is already certain to finish bottom of Group A3 and drop out of the top tier of the Nations League after losing to Italy on Friday.

Germany can no longer reach the Final Four tournament following its defeat at home to Hungary.

That loss brought an end to Hansi Flick’s unbeaten run as Germany coach since taking over from Joachim Löw in July last year, and also shone a harsh light on his record so far.

Germany defeated Italy 5-2 in its previous match in June, but it was the team’s only win from its last six games. It didn’t manage to avoid conceding in any of those matches.

Adding to Germany’s worry is the sense that Bayern Munich’s loss of form in the Bundesliga has spread to the national team, where the likes of Thomas Müller and Serge Gnabry in particular failed to spark against Hungary. Gnabry was hauled off at halftime. Bayern captain Manuel Neuer and midfielder Leon Goretzka missed the 1-0 loss in Leipzig due to coronavirus infections.

Old doubts about the team’s capability are resurfacing two months before the World Cup begins in Qatar, even if Germany sports director Oliver Bierhoff insists the aim is still to win the tournament.

“The goal stays,” Bierhoff said after the loss to Hungary. “OK, after this game, what can you say? But we start the (World Cup) tournament at zero.”

Bierhoff sees Monday’s game as a chance of redemption, an opportunity to forget the loss to Hungary and atone for the defeat to England on Germany’s previous visit to Wembley – a 2-0 loss in the round of 16 of the European Championship. That ended Löw’s 15-year tenure of the team.

“We want to make amends, to find our game and gain confidence,” Bierhoff said. “We have to believe more in ourselves. And a game like that against Hungary doesn’t help. We have to make sure that we stand up to the English and implement the things that the coach demands.”

Flick was keen this weekend to take the pressure off his players, saying he was also at fault for not finding the right setup for Hungary. He’ll have to make changes in London with Antonio Rüdiger suspended. Borussia Dortmund’s Nico Schlotterbeck is likely to come in for the Real Madrid defender in one of several changes at the back.

Thilo Kehrer and Robin Gosens could replace the ineffective Jonas Hofmann and David Raum. Flick also needs to answer questions in offense, with Jamal Musiala and Kai Havertz threatening to start in place of two from Timo Werner, Leroy Sané, Müller or Gnabry.

England counterpart Gareth Southgate is under even more pressure after five games without a win – the team’s worst run in eight years. England hasn’t scored a goal from open play in 495 minutes.

Southgate was asked if criticism of recent performances had led to him doubting his ability.

“I’m fortunate that I’m now sadly in my 50s, I have been in football for 30 years and I have gone in one guise or another to 12 tournaments, working with these chaps, scouting — this will be my seventh as player or a coach, so I have seen pretty much everything," Southgate said.

“The cycle of war with the media, the love-in — we are somewhere in the middle of that, it is an experience that I knew at some point would probably come with this job so I have to accept that.”


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Ciarán Fahey, The Associated Press