What better place to start in the “vice-group of death” then the Germans. These guys are a genuine title chance.
• Nickname: Die Mannschaft (sounds awesome, just means: The Team)
• Colors: White, Red, Yellow and Black
• FIFA Ranking: 6
• How They Got Here: Qualified without a loss in a European group with Russia, Finland and Wales.
• World Cup Pedigree: 6 World Cups as Germany (’34, ’38, ’94, ’98, ’02, ’06), runners-up once, third place and quarterfinals twice; 10 World Cups as West Germany (’54, ’58, ’62, ’66, ’70, ’74, ‘ 78, ’82, ’86, ’90), winners three times (’54, ’74, ’90), qualified for the knockout round every time; 1 World Cup as East Germany (’74), qualified for second round.
The Germans are always there, or there abouts, at the business end of a major tournament. Whether it’s their consistency, perfection or profound winning culture, the Germans are one of football’s downright superpowers. It’s been a stellar year for German football, with strong showings in the Champions League and the Europa League. The Bundeslega has revolutionised itself. Bayern, in particular has a raft of talented players, while retaining their German essence. The German squad is now entirely based in Germany (thanks to Mr Ballack’s withdrawal) making them only one of two squads (England is the other) to enjoy this feat. That means that all the players will be familiar with the same tactical system – typically German – and also have regular contact with each other. This is one united front, that will be a threat for the title – as always.
Low enters the tournament under consistent pressure. Despite leading the side to a final at Euro ’08 and by all reports, being the mastermind behind their third place in ’06, Low is disliked by many. He’s more of a tactician than an inspiration, but his low profile isn’t necessarily a weak point; look at Maradona. (Did you see what he said about the toilets!??!) Germany is the most decorated soccer nation in Europe and with that pedigree comes certain responsibilities. Low knows that a trophy is the bottom line.
This spot was reserved last week (when I started this preview) for Chelsea’s midfield boss Michael Ballack. Maybe it’d be more appropriate to leave this section blank? Who will step up into the role? The side is full of players who, for their club sides, often play second fiddle to genuine superstars. The German players at Bayern, such as Klose, are overshadowed by those Dutch and French dudes. In South Africa, the experienced players will have to step into the limelight. Klose fits the bill. He’s done it all before, and already has a double figure goal tally in World Cups. If Klose fires then the Germans will be almost impossible to beat.
Bastian Schweinsteiger (midfielder, Bayern Munich) is only 25, but seems to have been around forever. He’ll wear the captain’s armband without Ballack around, despite a poor season in clubland. With injury trouble in “the number 6 role” (It’s a German term for the two holding midfielders that their side always includes) Bastian will have to be the major bread winner and creative muse going forward. Lukas Podolski (forward, FC Koln), is another player who has had a turbulent couple of seasons. The Polish born striker always seems to save his best for the adopted country and will be looking to rekindle the form that had him as the world’s hottest talent once upon a time. PTS is an enormous fan of Philipp Lahm (left back, Bayern Munich) who is consistently overlooked by his colleagues. Don’t worry about Evra, Cole, or anyone else, Lahm is the best in football. In ’06 he was arguably player of the tournament and his wide overlapping runs for Bayern were a dominant feature of the Champions League. He’s like the Duracell bunny (for all you Australian advertising moguls) and just never seems to run out of puff. He can also play either side of the pitch. Lahm could destroy sides like Australia, who don’t offer much going forward, and will allow Lahm to be employed as an extra midfielder more than a defender. Christoph Metzelder (defender, Real Madrid) and Per Mertesacker (defender, Werder Bremen) make up the hard to break down center of defense and are known in Germany as “die bruder schnarch und schleich” (“the sleepy and the slow”). Not sure if that’s really what I’d want to be labelled as, but don’t worry, these guys are good.
GET YOURSELF LABELLED AS “THE HOTTEST PROPERTY”
I couldn’t split two players to be slapped with this tag:
Of all the young players to keep an eye on in the Cup, the 21-year-old naturalized German (he also could have played for Turkey) is the player that will raise his profile the most. He can play just about anywhere on the pitch and was the highlight of Germany’s European championship U-21 team in 2009. He plays for Werder Bremen (for now) in Germany. Apparently, Low loves to rotate his squad, so expect Ozil to get a run against the likes of Ghana.
So who is going to fill the boots of Ballack? It’s causing quote a headache at the moment, with fringe player Trasch picking up an injury in a friendly against third division Italians (didn’t know that division even existed), FC Suditirol. Khedira is now an automatic started next to Schweinsteiger in the 4-2-3-1. There’s no back up anymore, however, with the likes of veteran Torstan Frings falling foul of the manager. Khedira will be the weak link of the side and will have to step up in a big way for his country.
THE LIKELY VILLAIN
This might be slightly unfair, as it’s not really Borg’s fault that he’s in this position. Obvious first choice ‘keeper, Robert Enke, sadly committed suicide last year after battling depression. Borg is a serviceable netminder for Germany’s best team (Bayern Munich) but he’s not a world-class goalie and is the one weakness the Germans have.
Low favors the strong midfield play normally found in a 4-4-2. Though, at times, he’s tried a more defensive 4-2-3-1. The papers are favouring a 4-2-3-1 setup, but the injury concerns in midfield may leave the side a little unbalanced in such a formation. Ballack is a fantastic ball hog and the possession he always attracts will have to be recovered from somewhere. Unlike the majority of other nations in South Africa, Germany are settled up front and at the back, but look to be underdone in the centre of the pitch.
They will probably wear their very drab white uniform most of the time. But it’s the return of “Ze Black Shirts” that had England up in arms last year. The black shirts might dampen, slightly, the good guy image.
IT’S SORTA LIKE…
“Star Wars: Return of the Jedi”
Once feared (and, often, for good reason) on the old continent, this is a much softer and friendlier German team. Much like Darth Vader at the end of “Jedi,” when he helps atone for his past mistakes by dumping the Emperor over a balcony to his death. This isn’t meant to be a literal analogy, just a theoretical one.
Melitta Bentz invented the coffee filter in Germany in 1908. Yes! Taking useless up a notch.
THE FAIRYTALE SCRIPT
Germany could settle some old scores this year. (No, not like the way you’re thinking. This will be done on the soccer field.) Possible second-round foe? The USA (a rival for obvious reasons). Quarterfinals? Argentina (a rival who toppled the Germans in ’86 and are just about even with Germany behind Brazil in the Cup pecking order). Semifinals? Spain (a continental rival who ousted them in Euro 2008). Finals? Brazil (the only team with a better World Cup record)
Considering that Ballack won’t feature in the World Cup, it’s remarkable how many times he’s managed to filter into this article. (Michael Ballack – once more for good measure) More than being the group of death, Group D looks to be the group of injury, with the German and Ghanian captains (Essien) and Australia’s best player (Kewell) under heavy injury clouds or ruled out altogether. The absence of these players can not be understated (and opens the door for Serbia in a big way). Germany were once a well-oiled machine. Against them, you’d never get a sniff. You wouldn’t even touch the ball. But, the fierce mentality doesn’t seem to exude off their squad this time around. Who’s the bloke that’ll slide into “that” challenge and break someone’s leg? Who’s the bloke that looks like he’s about to explode with rage?
The Germans have only missed out on knockout action once before (’38 – the start of a dark period) and it’d be hard to bet against them in 2010. They’re a no-fuss side and don’t be surprised to find them in the semis before you realised. But they’re a young side and have a tough draw, so don’t be overly surprised if they do better in 2014 than this year.
World Class defence and attack + Winning Culture + The best travelling fans – terrible group (it’s physical too and will wear the side down) – lack of midfield depth – inexperience – goalkeeping issues = 2nd place in the group, mouth watering clash with England, where anything could happen.