England made light of their injury worries as World Cup preparations got off to a promising start, with Gareth Southgate’s young side fighting out a spirited goalless draw with Germany.
The first friendly in the build-up to Russia 2018 could have been thrown off kilter by the withdrawal of seven players, yet a youthful Three Lions line-up took their chances to impress against the reigning world champions.
England’s inexperienced side produced entertainment that was all too rare during qualification, with Southgate’s men showing endeavour, creativity and steel as the friendly against Germany ended 0-0.
Questions over Chelsea midfielder Danny Drinkwater’s commitment dominated the build-up to a match that saw two players on loan from the Premier League champions make promising debuts.
Tammy Abraham proved a handful during his first 60 minutes of international football and man of the match Ruben Loftus-Cheek flourished under the Wembley floodlights, as did fellow debutant Jordan Pickford.
The Everton goalkeeper may have only been able to watch on helplessly as Leroy Sane hit the bar, but he proved the scourge of Timo Werner in a first half that saw Phil Jones limp off through injury.
The Manchester United defender could well become the eighth withdrawal from England’s initial squad, but the other absentees gave Southgate an encouraging insight into the strength in depth at his disposal.
Joe Gomez and Jack Cork also made their debuts as Eric Dier captained his country for the first time on an experimental evening that sets things up nicely for Brazil’s visit on Tuesday.
This match saw Germany join England in wearing black armbands bearing the poppy, with the visitors’ anthem getting respect sorely lacking when the sides met in March before a touching rendition of the ‘Last Post’.
A classy moment of solidarity was followed by a friendly far more entertaining than any of England’s recent matches.
Abraham almost reached a Jamie Vardy cross after Pickford denied Werner in an end-to-end opening 90 seconds, with Germany unsurprisingly settling quickest and looking to expose any gap in the hosts’ three-man defence.
In-form Sane was proving their biggest threat. A thrashed strike in the early stages was followed by a stunning 20th-minute attempt that led to a collective gasp inside Wembley as his curling shot from the edge of the box hit the woodwork.
England failed to heed the warning and Pickford was soon forced into a fine low stop to deny Werner, with Jones producing a superb clearing header from Sane’s follow-up before Julian Draxler fired over.
For Jones, it proved his last act of the evening. The centre-back limped off the field with his thigh heavily strapped as Liverpool’s Gomez became the Three Lions’ fourth debutant of the night.
Germany were looking sharp on the break but Pickford was proving a sturdy last line of defence. Antonio Rudiger’s long-range strike was easy enough but his one-handed save from Werner was far more impressive.
Draxler had a penalty appeal against Kieran Trippier ignored before play swayed towards England, with marauding Harry Maguire presenting Abraham with the chance to get away a shot that looped narrowly wide via a deflection.
Jake Livermore dragged across goal before Loftus-Cheek’s splendid clipped pass put Vardy in, although he could not direct it home or to a team-mate.
England returned well from a half-time break that saw the Under-17 world champions introduced to the crowd, with Marc-Andre ter Stegen preventing Vardy from heading home Trippier’s cross.
Loftus-Cheek was pulling the strings in midfield as England pushed for a goal, including feeding captain Dier to get away a cross that Mats Hummels had to hack behind his own goal.
A spate of substitutions took the sting out of proceedings as England fans once again took entertainment into their own hands by aiming paper planes at the pitch.
Burnley midfielder Cork became the fifth to make his bow as the changes continued, with Jesse Lingard lashing over from six yards in stoppage time.