Their World Cup off to a perfect start after victory over Tunisia, England have received some encouraging words in terms of their tournament chances from several figures in the Germany camp.
A World Cup winner with Die Mannschaft four years ago, former Hannover, Werder Bremen and Arsenal favourite Per Mertesacker spoke of his belief that Gareth Southgate’s side are co-favourites for the title this time around.
"The English will be our strongest rivals," the recently retired central defender said. "The [physical] demands on them are always very, very heavy as [their players] go through the club season without a winter break, but this time I believe in them.”
Despite that strong belief, Mertesacker, who made 104 senior international appearances over a period of ten years for Die Mannschaft, believes that Germany will be the side to beat in Russia as they seek to become the first team to defend their world crown after Brazil in 1962. "We have a good mix [and] we still have a level where we can win a tournament; we're favourites," he said.
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Germany’s current No.1 striker, RB Leipzig’s Timo Werner, echoed Mertesacker’s sentiment that The Three Lions boast, “A good mix, like us,” while the 22-year-old sharp shooter also spoke of his admiration for one of his striking rivals at the tournament.
“[They have] a great striker in Harry Kane, who can always make the difference,” he said, adding, “And under Gareth Southgate they’ve also strengthened defensively, which we noticed in the 0-0 in Wembley (in November 2017). Even if they have landed in a nicer group, I trust them a lot, they should start with a bang.”
England’s start came against Tunisia in Volgograd on Monday , where difference-maker Kane did just that, scoring twice to help them to three points. While that victory puts them on the perfect track in 2018, others believe that this year won't be the one that football comes home to England.
"I think England have a good generation but not for this World Cup,” the 1990 winning captain with Germany, Lothar Matthäus told bundesliga.com. “England always have good players but I think they don’t have the experience in the tournaments, nor the results. It’s the same with the coach. He’s a new coach and it’s his first World Cup.
“Looking forward I think England have a good chance in Qatar in 2022,” the ex-Bayern Munich great added. “But for now, I just see them as outsiders. They can only surprise but I don’t see them as a favourite.”
For yet more Teutonic insight, another man who has played in both England and Germany and the only player to have competed in all six FIFA confederations was asked by ntv.de for his two cents on the matter. The current head of international relations and scouting at Hoffenheim, Lutz Pfannenstiel, said England were his “secret favourites,” and a side that should be on “any list” of serious contenders.
Pfannenstiel – a former goalkeeper who played for an astonishing 25 clubs all over the world – added, "[England] are young, play at a high speed and they are hungry for success like never before. Coach Gareth Southgate has put together a very well-balanced squad.”
As ever, German football fans will be taking a keen interest in England’s fortunes as they look to improve on their 2014 showing, when they were eliminated at the group stage. Following the opener against Tunisia, Southgate’s charges conclude their section with games against Panama and Belgium.