Another smooth build up sees the Mannschaft firing on all cylinders as they look to challenge outright
While Germany’s progression to the final of Euro 2008 was seen as a surprise, it was in fact the continuation of a trend of attacking brilliance that saw its birth at home during World Cup 2006 under the sparkling intent of Jurgen Klinsmann’s team. While both ’06 and ’08 versions contained some of the deadwood of former captain Michael Ballack’s generation, the complete retool was completed under Klinsmann’s successor Joachim Low and unleashed to spectacular effect in South Africa at the 2010 World Cup. Although some sceptics would point out that Germany’s precociously talented team may have overachieved both there and previously in Austria-Switzerland in 2008, the fact is that Germany’s progression to both tournaments’ latter stages, their form during qualification, and the impression they have made at youth levels, suggest that the national team is ready to take the final step – and win it all.
Romantics will point out that Spain are the team to beat and in many ways they remain so, having dominated and won both Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010. And thereafter the threat of Holland, offensively stocked and technically gifted, looms large. But whereas the former two nations were far and away the best two teams from Europe, and often the World, at previous tournaments, Germany is now ready to join them in a troika of heavyweights slugging it out for the tournament title and the right to be called Champions of Europe for four years. Germany’s team is young, a point labored several times over, hungry for success, balanced in all areas of the pitch and technically well drilled in both individual and team tactics and strategy. The coaching structure has remained intact for several years, no small feat that reaps its rewards with the stability it brings, and like Spain, is built around a core of players who have been playing the same style of football, together for years. And in some areas of the pitch, like at left full back and in goal, Germany’s talent is the best in the world. This German team is peaking at the right moment and the time is ripe for it to seize its chance and capture the glory.
Looking at it another way, if Germany’s relatively mediocre and transitional teams made it to the final at Euro 2008 and the semifinals at both 2006 and 2010, surely this team, now at its best, can surely go further and possibly even do one better? Writing off Germany at major tournaments is a hazardous task, with only Euro 2004 and Euro 2000 being disappointing outings for the national team in the last 30 odd years. They possess a mental setup that balances pressure and ability perfectly and rely on a winning attitude that makes them believe that they will go far. Now they have allayed that with the pyrotechnics of young football and are arguably better equipped than even their World Cup winning side in 1990, to win it all. Of course several banana skins remain and in a tournament played over a four week period, a surge in form at the right time could upset the balance, while head to head matches against Spain and Holland, when encountered, will present the stiffest of challenges. However, taking into account the draw, the team and the trend of results that Germany has achieved in recent games of importance, one can only conclude that the current side is readymade for success.
Anointing a talented group of similarly talented players a golden generation is a tricky and potentially ominous task as England’s and Brazil’s cohorts have shown. However the fact remains that Germany’s current crop is one of their finest harvests with many players who will miss the final cut of 23, able to walk into most teams at the tournament, including fellow heavyweights like England, Italy and France. German teams has long been more comfortable with the description of effective rather than good, however with a vintage this special surely a better epithet can be conjured. Typically, expectations have been tempered, with no rallying cries, as yet, having been made by any of the coaching staff, team members or media. But at home, fans are quietly optimistic as they book their trains and tickets. Already the full allocation of 12,000 tickets has been snapped up by German fans for their team’s matches in the group stages. And while Low has been notoriously low key, preferring to talk about his team’s preparation and players’ fitness, he must retain the strongest belief that the time is now for his side to succeed.
Germany has dropped points in only two games, both draws in their previous two qualification campaigns, while a third, enroute to Euro 2008, saw just one loss as they finished second to Russia in their group. More impressively they have spanked four goals past both Argentina and England in crushing victories in 2010 while getting past Uruguay and Portugal in third place matches with a degree of comfort. Add in the narrow defeats to Spain in the final in 2008 and the semi-finals in 2010, along with a heartbreaking extra time defeat to Italy in 2006, and it is quite clear that they only ever lose to the eventual champions. Germany have always played well and achieved strong finishes. But this team is even better. From front to back the team is stocked with the cores of several of the Bundesliga’s latest dynamic generation, formed around the nuclei of Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich with a smattering of talent from elsewhere like Real Madrid and Borussia Moenchengladbach. A quick rundown reveals the depth of talent in place.
While Bayern’s Manuel Neuer is first choice in goal, his backup pair of Rene Adler and Tim Wiese make one wonder how many other teams can boast such riches between the posts. Captain Phillip Lahm is one of the game’s premier wing backs and is joined at the back by Dortmund duo Marcel Schmelzer and Matt Hummels, who have picked up successive Bundesliga crowns, Schalke captain Benedikt Howedes, a commanding presence at centre back and versatile Bayern Munich defender Jerome Boateng, capable of playing anywhere along the back four. Further afield Wolfsburg’s Christian Trasch, Munich’s Holger Badstuber and Hamburg’s Dennis Aogo round out the options which may mean exiles for experienced Arsenal defender Per Metesacker, and wily veteran Arne Friedrich. It’s not just the strength, speed and technical brilliance of this defensive corps but their versatility and interchangeability.
In midfield, Germany’s strength really comes to bear as only Spain has a better set of starters and no one has a deeper pool of talent. Bayern’s attacking midfield pair of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Muller have already wreaked havoc at several international tournaments with a cut and thrust style played at breakneck speed. Add to them Real’s pair of attacking midfielders, Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira, and Dortmund’s own dynamic duo of Sven Bender and Mario Gotze, and you have a real handful of central midfielders who can pass, run, tackle and dribble with the ball at pace. Additional options are available through Bayern’s latest up and comer in the middle of the park, Toni Kroos, Schalke’s part English sensation Lewis Holtby, Gladbach’s Marco Reus and Bayer Leverkusen trio Lars Bender (Sven’s twin), Simon Rolfes and Andre Schurrle. If injuries do take a toll, Dortmund’s Ilkay Gundogan, Bremen’s Marko Marin and yet another Leverkusen midfielder Gonzalo Castro, can all step in. A look at the squad list makes would make many an opposing coach wince. Dortmund’s captain Sebastian Kehl does not even get a look-in.
Up front, the cupboard is anything but bare with old warhorse Miroslav Klose still banging them in for Lazio in Serie A, Leverkusen’s forward Stefan Keissling in the form of his life, Cologne forward Lukas Podolski (who can also play on the left wing) coming off another prolific season and Bayern’s Mario Gomez scoring for fun. Stuttgart’s Brazilian born striker Cacau and Wolfsburg’s Patrick Helmes are more than competent in front of goal and with Muller able to play in the hole, Germany’s attack is every bit as potent as its midfield. While Low can line his troops up anywhere from a traditional 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1 or even a 4-3-3, they play at a high tempo with speed and power, something that most teams will struggle to contain.
Germany’s moment in the sun has arrived, their time is now – a fact evident to all who follow the game. If they play to their potential, keep their minds on the task and take the chances that their style of football creates, they may very well go home with the trophy. Not that this makes them favourites of course, just the leading contenders to Spain’s crown.
Germany once again sealed qualification at a canter, winning all ten games in Group A and putting both Belgium and Turkey to the sword. Having sealed qualification early, they played their last three matches with experimental teams containing debutantes, and giving fringe players a chance. Making the big dance was never in doubt and Germany delivered with a swagger and confidence one has come to expect from this squad, scoring 34 goals and conceding only seven. Ominously, they never trailed and only conceded an equalizer four times, with a 3-1 battering of Turkey in Istanbul, the highlight of a campaign that was smooth, efficient and comprehensive.
One of the two favourites, along with Spain, for the title outright, the Dutch present an early test of Germany’s credentials. Like their rivals across the Rhine, Holland is blessed with outrageously gifted players and well stocked at all positions of the pitch. They play a high line and are very strong with a physical side of their football, particularly in defence, overshadowing an epic offense. In strikers Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Robin Van Persie, Holland have arguably the finest strike pair on the continent. With a midfield of Rafael Van Der Vaart, Arjen Robben, Nigel De Jong and Wesley Sneijder behind them, the Netherlands will definitely come to play. At the back the Dutch rely on the athleticism and physical prowess of their defensive unit who are a threat at set pieces as well. Germany’s match against Holland on June 13 in Kharkiv will determine the outcome of the tournament for both. Germany crushed Holland 3-0 in a friendly in November 2011.
Ridiculously talented with an array of mesmerizing players and arguably one of the best on the planet in Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal’s inclusion in Group B very much makes it the group of death. Alongside captain Ronaldo, who is capable of winning most game on his own, Portugal offer threats from all over their front six in Nani, Hugo Almeida, Ricardo Quaresma, Raul Meireles and Joao Moutinho. On the flip side, Portugal’s defending is a bit suspect. Germany’s defense will be stretched by a fast passing and tricky Portuguese side who are absolutely terrifying when in the mood and on song. Howedes and Hummels will have their work cut out in keeping Ronaldo off the scoresheet. They play Portugal June 9 in their opening game of the tournament in Lviv.
Hardly a threat without being pushovers, the Danes will bring their typical industry and organization to the tournament, although polished with some much needed creativity in Ajax’s attacking midfield jewel Christian Eriksen. Dennis Rommedahl is still tricky up front but at 33, his fastest years are behind him while Nicklas Bendtner, a more traditional centre forward is prolific in patches and is better with the ball in the air rather than at his feet. The Danish midfield is hard working without being eye-catching and Germany should have little trouble in bypassing them. However if the Danes dig in and Germany has to resort to working the ball in off the wings or over the top, Klose and Muller’s skills could come to the fore, once again. The Danes and Germans square off on June 17 in Lviv.