Another great German team is now poised to wrestle with the Spanish for the European Championship next summer and beyond
Germany‘s international match against Brazil on the 10th of August in the newly renovated home of Vfb Stuttgart, suitably named the Mercedes Benz Arena, was highly anticipated. Partly because it was a chance for the club to showcase the new improvements to the stadium but also because this match was being seen as a possible prelude to the World Cup Final in 2014 in Brazil. The game itself did nothing to disappoint the mouthwatering prospect it had become. A 3-2 thriller resulting in a win for the German side and although not quite in Manila, it certainly was a battle between two greats that showed no signs of being “just another international friendly”.
Germany are currently the most formidable force in international football. They are the most consistent, see their 2 defeats in 72 qualification games record for enough evidence. Spain reached their peak at both the European Championships and of course the World Cup in 2010 but they are now on the downward curve of that peak whereas Germany, runners-up in those European Championships and 3rd placed in the World Cup, are reaching the peak of their previously upward shaping curve. The average age of their current squad, the one that met Brazil, is 24. Twenty-four. For a mid-tabled Premiership side that’s encouraging, for a successful Premiership side it’s exciting, for an average international side it’s promising but for a successful international side it’s incredible. In fact, it’s just plain scary.
The usual contenders were attending for this friendly against Brazil but unlike England internationals, where the possibility of eleven half-time substitutions to mediocre hopefuls is a likelihood, Germany’s friendlies are clever on all levels. They are visual attractive propositions, they provide large amounts of investment and they give players the chance to perform against the best. However, let’s face it, if any side are to challenge the Germans in 2014, it is the host nation. The Brazilian defence has replaced the old guard and the attacking, flowing, aesthetic delight that is bound to Brazilian football is of course, still there. Yet despite also boasting an equally impressive low average squad age of 26, their disappointing performance at the 2011 Copa America will not go unnoticed. They missed all four penalties in their shoot-out defeat to Paraguay in the quarter-finals, who went on to finish runners up to a devastatingly good Uruguay side. Current coach Mano Menezes has some work on his hands.
A quiet first half ended was more than made good in the second with all five goals coming in an exciting period. Bastian Schweinsteiger was short of form towards the end of last year but has now risen from the ranks and slotted home the first penalty of the night after the impressive Toni Kroos was fouled in the area. That man Kroos found Mario Goetze moments later with a sublime pass and the young Dortmund star finished superbly. Germany were two up and looking comfortable. The normally reliable Philipp Lahm however was the first to make an error, fouling Dani Alves in the box, Robinho making no mistake from the spot. Game on. No, not at all. There was no time for clichés here, there never is with Germany. Schweinsteiger did well to find substitute Andre Schuerrle, who finished with a smashing effort past Julio Cesar. The two goal cushion had been restored and Neymar’s injury time strike flattered Brazil and both sides knew it. Typically of Germany though, they will were irritated to concede two against one of the world’s best and maybe herein lies the reason they are the side to watch. They are more than happy to continue to improve even when it seems there aren’t enough superlatives to describe their performances.
Germany’s squad hadn’t been too altered for the game against Brazil but upon careful inspection, it was clear that the result matched the personnel. Marco Reus had been called up again, after failing to make the squad last time around and as a result, his debut because of injury. The Borussia Moechengladbach winger-come-striker was a huge reason that his side stayed in Germany’s top flight last season and deserved his place in the squad and was unfortunate not to make an appearance. Also included, but not fielded, was İlkay Gündoğan, the other squad debutant, who very few know anything about. The 20 year old made a name for himself at Nuremberg between 2009-2011 and was rewarded with a €4 million move to reigning Champions, Borussia Dortmund. In Gündoğan they have seen the perfect replacement for the departing Sahin, as the young German can operate in an offensive or defensive midfield position, mainly due to his phenomenal passing game. The debate around his real origin will arise but the fact of the matter is that he is a German footballer player of third or fourth generation Turkish descent. The history of Germany simply points to the fact that many families stayed after the cry for workers and as a result we have now got a situation where Turkish families are making their lives in Germany and are becoming German nationals. It’s a sensitive subject in the country and on the football pitch it has the potential to go the same way but it seems unlikely. The reason mainly being that the increasing multicultural world that is now becoming a reality is offending less and less, particularly in relation to football.
The complexion of the rest of the squad follows a youthful suit with the perfect level of added experience. Manuel Neuer, Miroslav Klose, Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger are the core names, the world-class players of this ground-breaking side but they alone cannot be the reason Germany are the number one contenders. The arrival of players like Gündoğan (20) , Mario Goetze (19), Andre Schuerrle (20) and Marco Reus (22) shows strength and depth in attack but it is the entire squad that boasts this asset. Joachim Loew has an overflowing pool of talent to choose from but that makes his job all that harder because the dynamics must be right. His youth must be hungry and his experienced must be driven. In defence, Benedikt Hoewedes has been capped twice and the Schalke captain looks a solid replacement for the likes of Mertesacker, Westermann and Metzelder.
The old guard has gracefully been replace and as expected, the transition has been perfectly executed. Mats Hummels is another name that will become formidable with time. He and Holger Badstuber (yes, that is his real name) seemed to have formed the new centre-half pairing for Germany and although there are still questions about the Bayern Munich centre-back, Hummels looks a quality player. Having only been capped eight times, it may be surprising that he fits the bill so well but as is so often the way with this German side, it’s only a surprise to us. Ironically, Hummels started at Bayern Munich but they didn’t see a future in him so he left for Dortmund where he promptly earned a starting place and helped them to the title, earning the best defensive partnership (with Neven Subotic) in the Bundesliga along the way. Bayern’s defensive conundrum may well have been less of an issue had they kept hold of him all those years ago.
Dennis Aogo, Christian Traesch and Jerome Boateng are the other names in the defensive ranks and are all more than worthy squad members. Marcel Schmelzer is another Dortmund product who has made his way into the squad and although he needs more time than some others, he is still a viable option who has so much time to grow. This is where the real fear factor arrives. Apart from captain Philipp Lahm, there are no German defenders in the current squad over the age of 24. The word scary is appropriate because of the international experience these players have by their mid-twenties. Look at Lukas Podolski, who is 26 and has 89 caps and 42 goals, Bastian Schweinsteiger, 27, 88 caps and 22 goals and of course the captain, Philipp Lahm, 27, 81 caps, 4 goals. This really is something special. Glen Johnson is the same age as Podolski and has 34 caps. John Terry, England’s captain, is three years older than Philipp Lahm and has 13 caps less. A more than damaging piece of evidence for a certain Mr. Capello…
We should be scared and not just because they look good now but because their supply of talent appears never ending, young Ilkay Gündoğan the latest prodigy to emerge from the talent pool. The result in Stuttgart simply adds fire to this argument as not even the Brazilians and their own prodigy (Neymar) could prevent a German victory. The aforementioned defensive ranks proved more than capable of stemming the world’s most flair driven and attacking side in the world and the in the midfield, there were even more exciting returns. Goetze displayed the reasons why the world is excited about his arrival and along with the support of the experienced heads of Schweinsteiger, Podolski and Simon Rolfes (Bayer Leverkusen captain), the midfield excelled in all departments. The emerging talent of Thomas Mueller was made apparent at the last World Cup where he finished joint top scorer. The Bayern Munich star already has 21 caps and seven goals and to think he was playing for Bayern Munich’s second team in 2008. He is now only 21 years old. Twenty one.
Alongside him is club team-mate Toni Kroos, who had an outstanding game against Brazil and has really improved since his loan spell at Bayer Leverkusen. He too has 19 caps and he too is only 21 years old. Another Dortmund recruit is Sven Bender (again, these names are 100% real) and with only one cap to his name he is one of the relatively inexperienced members of this incredible teams. As are Lewis Holtby and Kevin Großkreutz, both of whom are names to watch. Holtby, who’s father is English and is an Everton fan, had a fantastic season on loan at Mainz last year and as a result is now a first team player at Schalke (his parent club). Großkreutz was a key part of the wing attack (alongside Kagawa and Goetze) for last years Champion’s Dortmund. Pivotally both Holtby and Großkreutz have formed impressive club connections with fellow Germany squad players. Schuerrle was also at loan at Mainz last year and he and Holtby combined to fire Mainz into a top five spot. Großkreutz combined with Goetze, as well as Schmelzer and Hummels to win the title. The links at club level are making this German side even more fluid. Vorsprung durch Logik.
Gündoğan and Reus have yet to be capped but that will only be a matter of time, as it will be for Bender to add to his tally and all three have earned their call-ups after impressive performances for their clubs. Although not present for the Brazil game, both Oezil and Khedira are two more world-class names to add to a midfield bursting with ability. It’s hardly surprising to see why Michael Ballack, who has been short of form for Leverkusen, has not made it back into the squad. A huge talent and a talisman for the side as captain and midfield general, he was a significant part of Germany’s progression but his time is over and this new midfield shows why. The older members of this squad, Cacau and Klose, have been named because they are the best in their positions. The former has displayed a fantastic start to the season despite being 30 and the latter, well, he’s still a world-class striker who is eight goals away from being Germany’s top goal-scorer ever. No room for argument there then. Putting it plain and simply, Ballack is not there because he’s not playing well enough. There’s no room for aging players who are picked on the basis of previous performances not current ones. Another note for Mr. Capello perhaps...
The striker position is Germany’s potential issue with Klose now at 33 and with probably only one major tournament left in him, that leaves Mario Gomez as the viable replacement. After last year’s performance in the Bundesliga, where he finished top-scorer with 28 goals (interestingly enough the third highest in Europe behind the immortals Messi and Ronaldo), there is no quarrel about him being capable of taking the reigns from international legend Miroslav Klose. The depth past Gomez though is what may be a concern because although Patrick Helmes and Stefan Kießling have both been capped, they haven’t quite fitted into the position. Germany normally only play with one striker because their midfield is so fearsome and so Klose or Gomez normally spearheads a 4-5-1 formation. Although in reality, Podolski and Mueller act as wing forwards and so it ends up being more of a 4-3-3. Either way, there is normally only one out and out striker, which means Germany’s depth may become an issue. Gomez is however only 26 (of course) so there is more than enough time for another striker capable of spearheading Germany’s attack to emerge from the never-ending pool of players.
All this team needs now is to win a Championship and in both the 2008 European Championships and the 2010 World Cup, they came bitterly close but couldn’t edge out a Spanish side whose time had come. Germany’s time is now and once they confirm that by winning a tournament, they will be one of the great sides ever to have won a tournament. This growth and rise may have been ignored by other countries, may have been missed but make no mistake, this is a side ready to deliver. They passed a side in “construction” and being “on the verge” long ago and although the defeats to Spain in both tournaments will hurt, they will simply add impetus to their momentum. A lot of comments have been made about the potential of this side but in all honesty, it’s no longer potential because it’s already happened. They, as a unit, already possess the necessary ability to not only compete but also beat the world’s best. They are capable of being the world’s best. Now.