By Mike Collett
LONDON (Reuters) - Germany continued their World Cup preparations with a win and maintained their long unbeaten run at Wembley Stadium when they took advantage of some poor defending to beat England 1-0 in a relatively low-key friendly on Tuesday.
The decisive goal came when Germany skipper Per Mertesacker outjumped Chris Smalling to powerfully head in a cross from Tony Kroos after 39 minutes and again expose a weakness at the heart of the home defense, for so long a strength of the England team.
The closest England came to scoring was when winger Andros Townsend crashed a long, low drive against the foot of the post with goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller beaten.
But Weidenfeller saw far more action when he played at Wembley for Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League final in May, and was largely untroubled on his international debut, when at 33 he became Germany's oldest debutant keeper.
England had plenty of possession, especially in the first half, but apart from Townsend's shot created little else, with a Wayne Rooney header and a Steven Gerrard drive going over the bar in the first half.
Gerrard, equaling World Cup-winning captain Bobby Moore's total of 108 appearances, was replaced early in the second half by Liverpool team mate Jordan Henderson as Hodgson continued his policy of giving playing time to some of his fringe players.
The England coach said before last week's friendly with Chile he was not so concerned with the results of these two games, as he was more interested in learning about as many players as possible before the World Cup. One thing he would have learned is that England need plenty of improvement at the back.
On Friday Chile's opening goal in their 2-0 victory came when Alexis Sanchez threw himself at a cross to beat Leighton Baines to head home.
Mertesacker also scored with a header when he outjumped Smalling - the third header Germany took advantage of in little over than a minute and the second time in that flurry that Mertesacker outjumped Smalling.
"I was surprised to be that free in front of goal," Mertesacker said. "I managed to break free from my marker twice and the second time I was sure to score.
"We have a lot of players and it will be interesting to see who the coach picks. We don't want to peak yet, we want to peak at the World Cup."
Hodgson said: "We knew that corners were going to be a major problem, but tonight we were not at our tallest, unfortunately."
Joe Hart, back in the side after a recent run of bad form for Manchester City and left out against Chile when Fraser Forster made his debut, had no chance of stopping the goal.
But he did pull off a superb save with his feet midway through the second half from Marco Reus.
While Hart has time to rediscover his form before the World Cup, Hodgson needs to discover what his best central defensive partnership is.
With long-time center backs John Terry and Rio Ferdinand departed from the national side, Hodgson appeared to have settled on Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill as his favored pair, but Cahill had a poor game against Chile and the Smalling-Jagielka partnership failed to handle the one period of sustained German pressure they had to face on Tuesday.
Hodgson made nine changes from the side that played Chile, while Germany coach Joachim Loew, in charge of the team for the 100th time, made eight changes from his side that drew 1-1 with Italy in Milan on Friday.
Kroos, who was one of three along with Reus and Jerome Boateng who played in both games, was the most effective player on the field when Germany defended in depth and broke on the counter.
Germany last lost at Wembley in a friendly in 1975 and since then have beaten England here five times and drawn once - in Euro 96, when they emerged victors in the semi-final penalty shootout before going on to win the title.
For England, it was the first time since 1977 they had lost two successive home matches, but if Hodgson builds a strong team for the World Cup, what he will have learnt from the two defeats will outweigh the disappointment of losing twice in quick succession at Wembley.
(Reporting by Mike Collett, editing by Stephen Wood)