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Defeat to Germany pushes Keegan towards exit door

Josh Williams September 2, 2010
Kevin Keegan wanders off the field © Getty Images
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With Fabio Capello under pressure ahead of England's first Euro 2012 qualifier against Bulgaria on Friday, we cast our eye back to 2000 and Kevin Keegan's last match as England chief...

England boss Keegan knew his race was run - he held his hands up and bravely admitted that he was struggling to cope with the demands of international management. He apologised to the nation, saying that he had "not been quite good enough", and tendered his resignation to the FA.

On the evidence of the 1-0 defeat to Germany in the first qualifier for World Cup 2002 - also the last match to be played at the old Wembley stadium - it was hard to disagree with this typically honest assessment of his credentials.

But before that bitterly disappointing reverse on October 7, 2000, in which England appeared resigned to their fate long before the referee blew his whistle to end their misery, there had been misgivings about both Keegan and the players' ability to perform under pressure.

Keegan led the team to a first-round exit at Euro 2000 after they slumped to defeats against Romania and Portugal in the group stage. These losses occurred after England threw away strong positions - they were leading in both games and still contrived to walk away with nothing.

Although Keegan was criticised for England's performance at Euro 2000, Alan Shearer - who retired after the tournament - would subsequently admit that the boss had been let down by his players. "He took us into a tournament in the summer and he had players, and I include myself in that, who let him down and let the country down," Shearer said. "The players as well have to take responsibility and I'm amongst that group because for the majority of Kevin's time I was in there playing and we haven't as a team done well enough."

The pressure on Keegan before the Germany match, as it is with Capello now, was to prove that he had learned the lessons of the painful failure at that tournament. The bald truth, after England conceded six goals in three games at Euro 2000, was that the cavalier style he had employed at club level with Newcastle United needed adapting in the more cerebral atmosphere of international football.

Gareth Southgate tries to tackle Dietmar Hamann © Getty Images
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Keegan's team selection for Germany indicated that this realisation had dawned on him. Gareth Southgate, at the time a centre back for Aston Villa, was employed as a holding midfielder just in front of the experienced duo of Martin Keown and Tony Adams. His selection ahead of the likes of Dennis Wise and Paul Ince, two veterans in the position, represented a substantial risk - but at least it was one Keegan was willing to take.

Southgate, in Keegan's mind, was to be the insurance policy in midfield that protected England against Germany's incisive counter-thrusts. But Southgate had played in the role before in the early phases of his career, notably at Crystal Palace, to no great success - indeed, he was only seriously considered as an international player when employed in the backline.

And what if England fell behind to an early goal? Was this really a starting line-up that could score twice against the Germans? It didn't take long until Keegan was confronted with that most unenviable of dilemmas. After 14 minutes Germany were awarded a free-kick within shooting range, Dietmar Hamann caught it sweetly and, with David Seaman slow to react, the ball nestled into the back of the net.

At half-time Keegan ripped up his initial gameplan by changing the team's shape. Southgate was moved out of the midfield area, with Gareth Barry brought on to patrol the area as a replacement. The manager's untypically negative move of employing a specialist defensive shield - a decent idea that suffered when the wrong man was given the job - had backfired.

The second half wasn't much better as Wembley, one of the most revered arenas in world football, was given an underwhelming send-off. Keegan cut a dejected figure as he traipsed down the tunnel at full-time, with doom-mongers predicting that the image would be the last captured of him in a managerial capacity.

But this was a story with a happier ending. Sven-Goran Eriksson replaced Keegan and went a long way towards exorcising the demons of the 1-0 loss to Germany by orchestrating a 5-1 victory in Munich, while Keegan would go onto excel at Manchester City as he led them from the footballing wilderness and back into the Premier League.

Capello will be hoping he will be another whose career moves forward on an upward trajectory after the Bulgaria test.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Josh Williams is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk