July 23, 2014
AnalysisSunday, July 13, 2014
Germany, when the team is the star
In the hours that followed Germany’s humiliating 7-1 triumph over Brazil, a phrase started to circulate around Twitter and other social media hubs.
The wording altered a little post-by-post, but the meaning was the same across the board. Out of the four semifinalists, Brazil had (an injured) Neymar, the Netherlands had Arjen Robben, and Argentina had Lionel Messi.
But Joachim Loew’s men, as they demonstrated so ruthlessly and clinically on Tuesday evening, had something else. Germany had a team.
Of course, this is a little simplistic. Star players or not, no team makes the final of the World Cup, as Argentina did in nail-biting circumstances with a penalty shoot-out win over Robben’s Oranje, if there is no team behind it. But it is fair to say that Messi, with four of the team’s eight goals and a couple of assists to boot, has been vital to the Albiceleste’s progress to the decisive fixture in Rio de Janeiro’s Maracanã Stadium.
On the other side of the pitch will be “the team”. But who are they? Despite that insistence on labelling Germany as football’s principal exponents of collective brilliance, they are not short on individual talent by any means.
The engine of the team can be found in a trio that know each other’s game inside out, after years of playing together at club level. Bayern Munich’s Thomas Müller and Bastian Schweinsteiger were the architects of a 4-0 quarterfinal drubbing for Argentina in the 2010 World Cup final, the game that ended Diego Maradona’s brief, tempestuous reign as coach. Schweinsteiger is the dynamo in midfield, the man who seems to cover an impossible amount of ground over the course of the match to keep his team running.
Müller, meanwhile, tormented Nicolás Otamendi to such an extent four years ago that his fledgling international career never really recovered. He is direct, quick and strong on the ball, but in common with all of his teammates singularly unselfish, preferring to lay off to a colleague in space to go it alone. Toni Kroos rounds off that wonderful Bayern trident, a creative midfielder who loves to get forward and whose two goals in as many minutes against Brazil really signalled the hosts’ collapse in Belo Horizonte.
Even further forward, we find Miroslav Klose. At the grand old age of 36, the striker broke Ronaldo’s record for most goals scored at World Cup finals when he smashed in his 16th and Germany’s second against Brazil. Die Mannschaft in total have found the net 17 times in Brazil, making them by far the highest-scoring nation, and Argentina’s first priority on Sunday must be keeping the likes of Müller, Kroos and Klose quiet in order to avoid another torrent of goals.
For all their strengths, however, Germany are not unbeatable. Their high-pressing style will yield goals at the other end, although opposing forwards have to contend with goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, who often plays as a sweeper as he charges out of goal to bring play to a halt. Central defender Mats Hummels suffered knee problems towards the end of the Brazil match and while he is being nursed back to full health, any fitness problems can be exploited by the Albiceleste.
Germany will have to be equally attentive in defence to stop the likes of Messi, Gonzalo Higuaín and, if passed fit, Ángel Di María from running riot. Do not be fooled by the overwhelming nature of Brazil’s humiliation; Germany are fallible like any other team, and if they try to destroy Argentina as they did the pitifully disorganized and chaotic home side, Alejandro Sabella’s men will find more than enough space to do damage of their own.
The last two finals Argentina have contested, in 1986 and 1990, both featured (West) Germany as the opponent. The first ended in a thrilling 3-2 win for the South Americans, while a bitterly-contested penalty was the difference between the two four years later as the side captained by Diego Maradona went down fighting 1-0. Just like those two previous clashes, a hard-fought, tight and hotly contested match is almost inevitable.
The Argentines are right to be wary of their opponents, who sent a message to the world with that massacre in the Mineirao. But Germany are not such clear favourites as the semifinal might suggest. A solid Albiceleste back-line has everything necessary to frustrate the Europeans’ attacking might, while at the other end the brilliant Messi is just one of many players who have the ability to ensure the World Cup returns to Buenos Aires in 2014.