By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) - England, with all their technical shortcomings, have always relied on big center backs but that last bastion disappeared on Tuesday when Roy Hodgson blamed their 1-0 defeat by Germany on a lack of defensive height.
Per Mertesacker headed the only goal of the Wembley friendly in the 39th minute, moments after keeper Joe Hart kept out an almost identical effort from the same player, as England center backs Phil Jagielka and Chris Smalling were found wanting.
England lost 2-0 at home to fellow World Cup qualifiers Chile on Friday after their center backs and aerial defense were again repeatedly exposed and Hodgaon said he saw it coming.
"We knew corners were going to be a major problem, with the height of Mertesacker," the England manager told reporters. "Tonight we weren't at our tallest, unfortunately."
Hodgson rejected the suggestion, however, that the center -back position, traditionally an area of real strength for England, had become a problem since the disappearance of John Terry and Rio Ferdinand from the national team.
"I thought Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka played well in the (World Cup) qualifying competition," he said. "I thought Chris Smalling played well, I don't think we were lacking in organization."
Hodgson could not hide the fact that England failed to muster a shot on target all night, even though Andros Townsend's sharp effort came back off a post.
"We didn't show the quality I was hoping we would show and create the chances our build-up deserved," said the England boss.
"I can't fault the work rate and application and I don't think there were stages when we were being particularly outplayed.
"But they were clearly better in the quality of their passing and finishing and that was a disappointment."
Germany coach Joachim Loew also bemoaned his team's poor finishing in their latest warm-up match for next year's World Cup in Brazil, but at least he had plenty of examples to be frustrated about.
"I was annoyed at times because we squandered many chances," said Loew, who looked to be suffering all sorts of agonies as he danced around his technical area.
"We should have extended our lead and got that second goal, especially when England were exposed defensively.
"But I think over the 90 minutes we deserved it. We had a good grip on the game."
While England's year has ended in frustration with successive home defeats for the first time since 1977, Germany look in far better shape.
"We began the year very positively winning in France, and finished with two "classics", against Italy, where we should have won, then here in England, where we did," Loew said in the wake of Friday's 1-1 friendly draw in Milan.
"So we can approach 2014 with a sense of quiet confidence and many of the young players can be proud of themselves the way they performed in front of an 85,000 crowd tonight.
"We have just one game left before the World Cup, against Chile, and our thoughts are already turning towards what we need to change."
(Editing by Ken Ferris)