The Nations League campaign appeared to be turning into a headache for Gareth Southgate and England. The idea had been to show a response to Saturday’s flat 1-0 loss in Hungary but England trailed to Jonas Hofmann’s goal early in the second half and they had fired only in fits and starts. It was Germany that were showing the assurance in possession, examining Southgate’s four-man backline and making it look wobbly.
And yet England found a way back, the final 20 minutes coming to feel like a golden period for them, the chances coming in increasing volume and clarity. The frustration would have been intense, the questions plentiful, had another tie slipped away from them.
But Harry Kane – who else? – was not in the mood for the soul-searching inquest. He had been denied by Manuel Neuer as England turned the screw, arriving to meet a low cross from the substitute Jack Grealish and watching the goalkeeper save with his legs. Grealish made a significant impact upon his 72nd minute introduction, bringing energy and incision off the left.
As Kane later admitted, it could have been “one of those days”. But the captain would make the difference towards the end when he melted away from Nico Schlotterbeck inside the area to pursue another Grealish pass.
Schlotterbeck’s challenge as he fell looked clumsy and Kane argued loudly that he had been clipped by the centre-half. The strange thing was that Germany went straight up to the other end, with the substitute Leroy Sané failing to make the final pass before VAR got to work. After a lengthy review, the decision was reached. Penalty.
From there, as usual, it was never in doubt. Kane placed the ball and drilled it into the bottom corner. He had his 50th England goal, one clear of Sir Bobby Charlton and only three behind the record holder, Wayne Rooney. And the travelling England support, who officially numbered 3,466 inside the stadium but were plainly many more, could celebrate.
They jumped up in areas across the home sections and they could almost toast a stunning stoppage-time winner. Yet again, Grealish did the damage, teasing and crossing but, when Kane opened up his body for the sidefoot, he missed his kick.
Southgate could be more than happy with the point. The penalty was a little soft but, then again, so was the one that Hungary had scored on Saturday. It became a story of England’s resilience, their refusal to wilt in the face of a controlled performance from the nation that Southgate regards as the “benchmark” in world football, together with Brazil.
England always seem to measure themselves against Germany, with the high point of Southgate’s near six-year tenure coming at last summer’s European Championship in the 2-0 last 16 victory over them. On England’s first return to Munich since the 5-1 World Cup qualifying win in 2001, they could focus on a number of positives, which took in a commanding midfield display from Declan Rice.
It was not all smooth as Southgate went with surely his strongest available line-up for a game that felt more loaded and valuable in terms of World Cup preparations than any other this season. Jordan Pickford will not enjoy the inquest into the Hofmann goal and, too often, England were loose at the back.
It had been nervy for them at the outset. Antonio Rüdiger helped on a Joshua Kimmich corner that was cheaply conceded by Kieran Trippier, who filled in at left-back, and Kyle Walker’s toe away from Thomas Müller was crucial.
Germany looked dangerous on set-pieces and they shaded the first-half, with Jamal Musiala, the former England under-21 midfielder, bringing the menace off the left, his twinkle toes easy on the eye. He had a clutch of sightings before the interval only for England to get bodies in the way.
There was also the let-off for Southgate’s team in the 23rd minute when Hofmann ran on to a long ball from Schlotterbeck to finish, as Harry Maguire – England’s last man – wrestled Kai Havertz down on halfway. Hofmann was called back for a marginal offside. It was a worry to see how Maguire was exposed positionally.
England, though, did flicker in the first-half, with Kane blazing over the crossbar after Maguire had jumped for a Trippier corner. During eight minutes of stoppage-time. Bukayo Saka worked Neuer at the near post and then curled wide of the other upright.
The Germany buildup for the breakthrough goal had been patient but then the excellent Kimmich fizzed the killer pass to Hofmann, who had tiptoed into space inside the area. John Stones could not get across in time and Hofmann’s shot was powerfully struck. The way that it flashed past Pickford was nevertheless a concern. He did not have his hands in position, throwing up one of them and seeing it offer no resistance.
Mason Mount flickered as England sought to respond, extending Neuer with a rasping drive after Jude Bellingham, who had replaced the injured Kalvin Phillips, won a tackle. Phillips would leave the stadium on crutches.
Müller was denied by Pickford following a David Raum cross and the goalkeeper would also stop from the substitute Timo Werner following a quick break. But it was England who pushed and Kane who was decisive.