Euro 2012: England have improved, says Germany midfielder Mesut Ozil
Mesut Ozil refused to be drawn today on whether England's European Championship defeat to Italy simply spared them another thrashing by his Germany side.
England crashed out of Euro 2012 on penalties on Sunday night, denying them the chance to try to avenge their 4-1 World Cup hammering by Germany in this week's semi-finals.
But the manner of the two sides' performances in Poland and Ukraine have led some to suggest England were at risk of another hiding in Warsaw had they managed to progress.
Asked if he believed that and if he also felt Germany were a better team than two years ago, midfield star Ozil said: "Yes, we have improved. We're on a very good track.
"We've reached the semi-final, with just a few inches to go until the big final.
"As far as England are concerned, I think they've played a very good tournament.
"They were slightly inferior against Italy and I think that was visible during the game.
"But they, too, as a team definitely have improved and have developed further."
Last night's defeat was England's sixth in seven shootouts, as their hoodoo on spot-kicks continued with decisive misses from Ashley Young and Ashley Cole.
Their record had been lost one, won one, when they last faced Germany on penalties during the Euro 96 semi-finals.
Germany goalkeeping coach Andrea Kopke was his country's hero that night, saving Gareth Southgate's weak sudden-death strike.
Kopke was at a loss today as to why England were still so bad at penalties.
He said: "It was all in their own hands. They were up one penalty and hitting the crossbar was just unlucky.
"Cole had a stinker when he took that penalty.
"England are tragically unlucky in many respects but why that is, I don't know."
A big deal has been made out of the importance of practising penalties, with many believing that to be behind Germany's historic shootout success.
But Kopke said: "It's near impossible to 'practise' penalty shootouts in training.
"In training, players just whack it in and they do different things when it really counts.
"It makes precious little sense to practise penalties during training."