Gareth Southgate suffered his first defeat in charge of England as Lukas Podolski’s spectacular second-half winner provided a fitting farewell to his Germany career in Dortmund.
Southgate had been undefeated in four games as interim manager following Sam Allardyce’s abrupt departure from the England post after one match – and he will feel this loss in his first match in permanent control was harsh on his side after a creditable performance against the World Cup holders.
Adam Lallana struck a post and Dele Alli saw a shot blocked at point-blank range by Germany keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen in the first half as England were superior for spells.
It was almost inevitable, however, that former Arsenal striker Podolski, given a hero’s reception before, during and after the game, made the decisive contribution with a rising left-foot drive from outside the area after 69 minutes that gave England keeper Joe Hart no chance.
Southgate’s night of satisfaction
Germany’s reshaped side had the same experimental appearance as England’s but there was still plenty to satisfy manager Southgate in a losing cause.
The result will hurt because for a large portion of this game England were the more creative, threatening and energetic side.
Southgate, though, will reflect on a three-man defensive system that worked effectively – although it was not put to the test too often by a Germany team who rarely went through the gears.
Burnley’s Michael Keane made an assured debut, almost scoring in the opening minutes, and while the attacking system occasionally left Jamie Vardy isolated it did allow Alli and Lallana to flourish and advance into dangerous positions.
England looked effective in possession and nothing that happened here will damage the confidence Southgate is looking to rebuild and put in place after his appointment as permanent successor to Allardyce.
It was a qualified satisfaction because this was nowhere near a full-strength or full throttle Germany.
But Southgate will still have plenty of plus points to take forward into Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania at Wembley.
Alli shows his class – with one regret
Dele Alli gave a man-of-the-match performance when England beat Germany in a friendly in Berlin almost a year ago and this was another display that will have impressed the knowledgeable observers here at Signal Iduna Park.
Alli showed some sublime touches in a system that suited him and brought the best out of his natural creative instincts, making chances and also acting as a goal threat as Southgate looks to find the new way forward for England.
He had been the game’s best performer when he was replace by Jesse Lingard with 20 minutes left – but he will have departed with one major regret from what was an otherwise excellent night’s work.
Alli was guilty of missing that great opportunity in the first half when he was played in by Vardy, who had earlier had a penalty appeal turned down.
Alli only had Ter Stegen to beat but shot straight at the German keeper with a surprisingly poor finish for someone of his calibre.
It was a blemish on his efforts – but not enough to disguise the great talent that is at Southgate’s disposal.
Podolski’s fond farewell
This friendly international carried the air of a testimonial for long periods – and in many ways it was as Germany striker Podolski bade farewell to the international stage.
The 31-year-old striker was ending his career after 130 caps, 49 goals and a World Cup win in 2014, a goodbye said in some style even apart from his spectacular final goal.
Podolski was given a presentation and delivered a speech that delayed the kick-off by several minutes while Germany fans unveiled a celebratory mosaic to a hugely popular figure in this country.
It may well have accounted for the flat atmosphere in the first half and a German performance to match on a night that almost seemed more about paying tribute to one of their great sporting servants than learning lessons from playing England.
The match-winner exited the stage a few minutes before the end, accompanied by a standing ovation and dramatic music. This was a night dedicated to him.
Man of the match – Dele Alli (England)
‘They scored a fairytale goal’
England manager Gareth Southgate on BBC Radio 5 live: “We have to reflect on a very good performance – a new system that I felt worked well and allowed us to control possession of game but also create chances.
“They’ve scored a fairytale goal, but I’ve got to be proud of what the players have done.
“I thought we were the better side up until their winning goal. That was a good learning experience for our young players who made their debuts.
“All that was missing was the finish to get the winning goal I felt we deserved.”
Germany goalscorer Lukas Podolski: “It was like in a movie, dear god gave me a strong left foot and I used it tonight.
“It was a great game, a great result and a great way to say goodbye. That gave me goosebumps to get a reception like that.”
Germany manager Joachim Low: “It was noticeable that England were playing more intensely, much more vigorously in the tackle especially in the first half.
“It took us a while to get used to this and slowly but surely I think our players got used to our rhythm.
“I think it was a very good game in the end. It was good to play against opponents that really gave us a run for our money.”
Both countries return to their World Cup qualifying campaigns on Sunday, when England host Lithuania and Germany are away to Azerbaijan.