Let's give Germany some respect

July 5, 2010

Before the tournament began, I told fellow Worldview blogger that the injury to Michael Ballack was a blessing in disguise for Germany. "Now they've no superstars," I said, "and they don't have to play to Ballack's strengths or make adjustments to get him into a game." Dan pointed out that Germany's under-20s squad won the European Championships and suggested that players like Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil would come into their own in South Africa. And, of course, we both agreed that you can never write off the Germans. Still, I couldn't see Germany beating Argentina 4-0 (could anyone?!) or England 4-1 (surely that one had to go to penalties!) But win both those games comprehensively they did and now, as the most exciting and highest scoring team left in the tournament, they must be the favorites to win their fourth World Cup (having three previous wins as West Germany in 1954, 1974 and 1990). Argentina had no answer to the positional diligence of the German players, their strength and organization at the back, and their fluidity, speed and movement going forward. Sami Khedira controlled the midfield alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger who not only set the tempo of the game with his passing, but his slalom through Argentina's "defence" (a term I use loosely) for Germany's third was reminiscent of his thrilling wing play in Euro2008 and the 2006 World Cup. Personally, I always thought Miroslav Klose was over-rated and that his World Cup scoring figures were inflated by goals against weaker national teams (apologies to Saudi Arabia and Costa Rica), but he's scored 14 more World Cup goals than I ever will, including 3 in Germany's successive quarter-final wins against Argentina. History will judge him more kindly than I. In addition, this is the most exciting (and likeable) Germany team in many years. There's no villain like Harald Schumacher or seeming arrogance of Lothar Matthaus (although from that era I always liked Pierre Littbarski and Andreas Brehme). Instead, there's a team ethic, pacey and intelligent wide players, and unselfish attackers. Respect to Germany version 2010. However, there is one caveat and that is how these German players will react if they concede the first goal. They play splendidly on the break when their opponents are chasing the game, and have been aided in this strategy by being gifted opening goals against England and Argentina through a combination of poor defending and curious goalkeeping (just what was Sergio Romero doing?). Indeed, the only game in which Germany have trailed so far, against Serbia, they lost 1-0, missed a penalty, and played most of the game with 10-men. How would this team'sexcit blend of youth and experience have responded if Frank Lampard's "Ëœgoal' been given. It would have meant that from being 2-0 ahead and cruising, Germany would have conceded 2 goals in 3 minutes and that momentum was swinging towards England's more experienced Premier League stars. Given the performances of Germany since Lampard's "Ëœgoal' I still think Germany would have won the game against England anyway, but Spain in the semi-final may offer a more rigorous challenge than either England or Argentina did, especially if the Spaniards score first. We will find out on Wednesday.
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