Roy Hodgson had injury problems. He was confronted by Germany, a nation with whom it is fair to say England have a bit of history, and the match represented the climax to the Football Association's 150th anniversary celebrations. There is no such thing as a friendly against these guys.
So what does the England manager do? Pick his strongest available team and seek a pre-World Cup morale-boost or tell Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and Ashley Cole to rest up at their clubs? After all, his three most established players are sure to make his squad for the finals in Brazil next summer. There would be little to learn from pressing them into service, particularly as club games come thick and fast.
The reaction to Hodgson choosing the latter option would not have been difficult to predict. And yet this is precisely what Joachim Löw, his Germany counterpart, did at a largely subdued Wembley.
Injuries had deprived him of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira, Ilkay Gundogan, Mario Gomez and Lukas Podolski but it was his decision to stand down Manuel Neuer, Philipp Lahm and Mesut Özil, who are almost certainly his most important players.
The move blurred the line between confidence and swaggering arrogance and, with Löw having used the trio against Italy last Friday (Neuer and Lahm from the start; Özil as a substitute), it was easy to imagine where he considered England to be in the international pecking order.
The psychology worked on several levels and it served to frame the contest in Löw's favour. A disappointment, and he could point out that his stars were missing; anything more encouraging and it was a result that was achieved with one hand, metaphorically, tied behind his back. The Germans do not need everybody against their old rivals. And so it proved. The bonus number came in.
Löw would not have wanted to lose with his strongest team to England who, despite their well-documented travails, are capable of taking the prized scalps in friendlies. They beat Italy and Brazil last season. But when the teams were confirmed (the public announcer used hushed tones for the Germans), Löw had effectively stripped away the primacy of the result.
The focus, from his point of view, could be trained on the second-stringers, even if it feels wrong to refer to Toni Kroos and Mario Götze in such terms. The Bayern Munich attacking midfielders started poorly, as did their team but they moved smoothly through the gears and, in the second-half, they called the tune; Kroos having been moved to a deeper role and Götze to a roving central striker position. "We had a good grip on the match," Low said. Nobody could argue.
Germany's initial lack of touch and rhythm had been jarring and one loose pass from Kroos midway through the first half seemed to capture the mood.
Max Kruse, the third-choice striker, was too eager to impress and he was left to lament an opportunity missed.
Kroos demonstrated the hallmark of class by finding a way to make the difference. It was as if a switch had been flicked towards the end of a dull first half. His corner was cleared back to him and, making a difficult skill look straightforward, he weighted a first-time ball into the area that implored Per Mertesacker to attack.
Moments earlier, the Arsenal centre-half had drawn Joe Hart into a reflex save which set the narrative of the goalkeeper's positive return rattling into action. Mertesacker, though, gave him no chance on the second occasion, his header a fusion of power and precision.
No sooner had the captain finished his celebratory knee slide, than the enclave of visiting supporters piped up. "Football's coming home," they chortled. Yeah, yeah. Löw got in on the act: "Per has been a pillar of strength … literally speaking given his height." The Germans enjoyed this.
Löw made his changes because he could. Of his starting XI, only four, perhaps, could be regarded as first choices: the defenders Jérôme Boateng, Mertesacker and, possibly, Marcel Schmelzer, together with the left winger Marco Reus, who was uncharacteristically off-colour.
The pool of talent available to Löw is remarkable, particularly in midfield, where the Bender twins, Sven and Lars, brought tenacity if not creativity. Löw's mission was to fine tune.
Germany were better in the second-half and there were pleasing combinations for Löw on the counter; moments of real slickness about his team's work. Götze showed his quicksilver quality and the only disappointment was their inability to score the second goal. Reus and the substitute Sidney Sam were profligate. It did not matter. Germany were streetwise and smothering; they did not allow England a single shot on target and Löw radiated trademark conviction at full-time.
"I can approach 2014 with quiet confidence," he said. "The players I tried can gain from this win. Our thoughts are already geared towards what we can achieve next year. There is only one game left to prepare for the World Cup but we know what the sticking points are. We will address them."