We can talk about 1966, about the most famous English triumph over the Germans, about questionable decisions by linesmen and about shots that crossed the line. We can, and we probably will. Yet while England reference the past, Germany look to the future. Theirs glows. England's golden generation, in contrast, have lost their sheen. Even Fabio Capello could not apply the polish. They can lament Frank Lampard's shot, which crossed the line, but was not given as a goal by the Uruguayan officials. But they can have no other complaints. They were outclassed.
Looking at the ages of the two sides, advocates of England suggested their experience would be an asset. It was not. Rather, a seasoned team have become yesterday's men, an era ending without a hint of the major trophy their talents could have produced. It has been a decade of expensive underachievement. Fresher and fearless, Germany's approach was admirable. But then the England-Germany rivalry heightens comparisons. One team shrinks in the shirts in the national team, another grows in it. The German mentality is famously formidable, but so, now, are their skills. Joachim Loew's side proved that stylish Germans is not an oxymoron. This is an endearingly watchable side, one who scythed England apart elegantly. Their passing was sharper and more inventive, delivered with a greater understanding of the angles involved. Mesut Ozil roamed unchecked, a creator with a licence to thrill. Ahead of him and either side of him lurked the goalscorers, Miroslav Klose, Lukas Podolski and Thomas Muller.
And here, once again, a contrast can be drawn. Before the tournament, one forward was described as a "complete player" by Johan Cruyff, "lethal", for Zico and "a dream to play with" in Lionel Messi's opinion. He is Wayne Rooney, and he is yet to score in a World Cup. No such superlatives are invoked to discuss Klose, who bullied Matthew Upson out of his way for the opening goal. Yet only Brazil's Ronaldo, Gerd Muller and Just Fontaine have scored more goals in the history of the World Cup. He is an unheralded immortal, an epitome of the Germans' ability to excel.
Podolski, his former strike partner, is only 25 and now starts on the left wing. Between them, however, he and Klose have scored 90 international goals. Muller, meanwhile, may prove as prolific. A precocious combination of fine finishing and a maturity unusual in a 20 year old, he prospered on the counter-attack. Collectively, they were underestimated by England. Premier League and Champions League medals count for little when a team is consistently less than the sum of its parts.
The goals conceded were a damning indictment. A conspicuous lack of organisation reflects poorly on Capello, though he is far from alone in failing to get players to replicate their club performances on the international stage. John Terry was especially abject, forever found in the wrong position. Matthew Upson was equally culpable. For both, there will not be another World Cup. Nor will there be one for Lampard and Steven Gerrard, Emile Heskey and Gareth Barry, David James and Jamie Carragher. England took a short-term approach but a focus on the present proved unpleasant.
If a period of soul-searching does not await, it should. Technically and tactically, Germany were the superior side. England require a new approach, based on a greater emphasis on passing, and new players. They may need a new manager, too. They can console themselves with the nostalgia 1966 offers, but Germany's team for 2014 are mounting a laudable effort to win in 2010. @Email:email@example.com