Lothar Matthaus is backing England’s “young, improved” side to meet Brazil in the World Cup final in Moscow on July 15.
Speaking at the launch of this year’s The Best FIFA Football Awards, Germany’s 1990 World Cup-winning captain revealed he has been impressed with England’s “new generation” since watching them win a 2016 friendly in Berlin 3-2.
Only 11 of the squad that night in the German capital are in Gareth Southgate’s Russia 2018 group, but Matthaus believes England have made huge strides in recent years.
“England played very well last night (against Colombia),” the 57-year-old former Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Inter Milan star said.
“I like this style of England – they have a lot of young, fast players with good technique. The English national team is profiting from the national coaches working regularly with these young players and you can see how they have improved.
“That’s why England is still in the World Cup. And they learned to shoot penalties!”
Matthaus was the lynchpin of the German side that beat England in a shoot-out in the semi-finals of Italia 90, one of a record-equalling five World Cups he played in.
He did, however, make one criticism of England’s performance in their thrilling last-16 victory over Colombia.
“I don’t know why you changed your system, I thought you were brilliant for 70 minutes,” said Matthaus, who has also managed Bulgaria and Hungary since retiring as a player in 2000.
“(Dele) Alli was coming out, (Eric) Dier was coming in. I think this broke the style of play.”
That substitution actually came in the 81st minute, but Matthaus was right in that it did seem to shift the balance of play from England to Colombia, who equalised in the 93rd minute to force extra-time.
The fact that England were then able to prevail on penalties, however, is another indication for Matthaus that this is a different Three Lions team.
“I think before they didn’t believe in themselves and they would read the history of the shoot-out in the newspapers,” he said.
“But this is a young generation and they believe in themselves.
“They don’t kick-and-rush like 20 years ago – they like to play out from defence. This is the style of the clubs where they have the best coaches in the world, like (Pep) Guardiola, (Jose) Mourinho, (Jurgen) Klopp and all the others.”
Asked if this meant England were realistic contenders for a second World Cup title, Matthaus said: “I said before the World Cup that Brazil are the favourites.
“I think the Brazil coach has found the right balance between offence and defence. They work with a lot of discipline and a European style in defence, which gives them a chance to play Brazilian-style in offence.
“But yesterday I was supporting England because I like the style they’ve played these last two years and, when England play like they did in the first 70 minutes, I support Brazil and England.”