BERLIN // The withdrawals of many stars have left both Germany and England with a chance of using their friendly to test new players ahead of qualifying matches for the 2010 World Cup. A long list of injuries on both sides may have also taken some edge out of next chapter in the long, rich rivalry between the teams when they meet on Wednesday at Berlin's Olympic Stadium. "It's not a meaningless friendly," the Manchester United midfielder Michael Carrick said. "Germany vs. England at any level is a huge game."
Germany have never beaten England in seven matches in Berlin. The last match in Berlin was in 1972, a 0-0 draw. "I didn't know these statistics and I am not impressed by them," the Germany defender Arne Friedrich said. "But England has played very well recently and it won't be easy. We are Germany, however, and we want to win." The most famous of England victories on German soil was in the World Cup qualifying campaign in 2001 when they defeat the hosts 5-1 in Munich.
Germany have had the upper hand in championship finals, twice defeating England on penalties in 1990 at the World Cup semi-finals and in 1996 for the European Championships semi-finals at Wembley. The Germany coach Joachim Low believes he will still face a strong England even without Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney, Emile Heskey, Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, Joe Cole, Owen Hargreaves and Theo Walcott. The captain John Terry passed a fitness test on Monday.
"England have made a lot of progress, they have taken big steps forward. England have one of the strongest teams in years," Low said. "They learned their lesson from failing to qualify for the European Championship and now they have some Italian qualities (in coach Fabio Capello)." Capello has also chosen to leave out striker Michael Owen because of a lack of fitness and form and David Beckham because he has been inactive since the Los Angeles Galaxy's failure to reach the MLS playoffs.
"We'll be playing against a very strong team nevertheless," Low added. "England have 20-25 world-class players and they (can) step into the system smoothly." Low recalled that Germany were severely depleted by injuries when the two teams last met in August 2007 and still won 2-1 at Wembley. "Why can't they do the same? Their young players will want to prove themselves. England is now a very disciplined team, very quick in transition, very fast and nothing will change in their game even if some players are missing," Loew said. Loew will be without the captain Michael Ballack and his midfield colleague Torsten Frings, who had a public row with Low last month before apologising in separate private meetings with the coach.
Frings played only seven minutes in the last two World Cup qualifiers, a 2-1 win over Russia and a 1-0 victory over Wales, prompting Ballack to speak out on behalf of his longtime friend. Ballack was deemed still not fully fit, although he made a comeback appearance for Chelsea over the weekend. Frings was left out by mutual agreement. Also missing through injuries are Philipp Lahm, Clemens Fritz, Marcell Jansen and Christian Pander, all defensive players.
Ballack, Frings and Lahm, who make up the players' council, were in Berlin to negotiate over bonuses if the Germans qualify for the World Cup. They clinched a deal that will pay each player up to 200,000 (Dh930,000). Loew has called up three newcomers, the defender Marvin Compper and the midfielder Tobias Weis, both of high-flying Hoffenheim and the Wolfsburg defender Marcel Schaefer. Schaefer, the only true left back in the team, could be handed a debut. Weis has been an important player in Hoffenheim's unexpected stay at the top of the Bundesliga.
"We need to get some insight into the future and we should use Wednesday's game to test one or two players," Low said. "It's important to integrate some young players ahead of 2010." Capello has called up Chelsea's 19-year-old defender Michael Mancienne, who has never played in the Premier League and is loan to the Coca-Cola Championship leaders Wolves. Mancienne may just be there for experience but Capello clearly sees him as potential star. Under Capello, England has won its first four World Cup qualifiers.
"I think we are a very good team," Capello said. "We can play against all the countries at the same level." *AP