When Philip Lahm walks through the tunnel and into the Lviv Arena on June 9, the Germany captain will probably be encompassed by a feeling unlike anything he has ever experienced before. It will take him a while to figure it out but by the time the ringing chorus of The Deutschlandlied has died down, he will probably realize what it is — nerves.
Now, Lahm has played in many a big game in his career, both for club and country, and a trip to the Paris of the Ukraine should not be reason enough to unsettle this most accomplished of footballers. But then again, these will be nerves of a different kind. Because this will not be the nerves of someone struggling to prove himself as a big boy (Lahm should be used to that!) but those of someone trying to prove to the doubters that they belong on the elevated pedestal that they have been thrust upon. As the old cliché goes, it’s hard getting to the top, but it’s harder staying there. And with Euro 2012 betting touting Germany as second to Spain to win the Euros, the pressure is truly on.
It is well recognized that Joachim Loew’s Germany is an exciting beast. Even since thumping England and Argentina in South Africa in 2010, they have been widely recognized as playing one of the most attractive, easy on the eyes brand of football on the planet. Of course that hasn’t stopped any of their detractors, chief of which seems to be Fabio Capello, but that is a story for another day. In any case, a ten out of ten record in European qualifying and a slew of international friendly wins over top-brass opposition means that in 2011, Loew’s Germany took that one crucial step; they went from being a pretender to a contender.
Now, the media will have you believe that Germany are always contenders in any major tournament they participate in. Although it’s generally rubbish, it sells newspapers when you think there is a wider pool of nations competing for the big prize. For their part, Germany have done much to fuel this media fervor, overachieving in almost every international tournament in the last decade with such alarming regularity, that casual observers are left shaking their head saying, ‘them bloody Germans do it every single time.’
But while Rudi Voller, national fervor, plain old English grit and the roll of the prized balls in FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich did much to propel Germany to near glory across the last decade, the truth of the matter is that Germany not once boasted a team capable of lifting either the Euros or the World Cup. In all honesty, a German triumph in Euro 2008 would have been as much a shock as Greece lifting Euro 2004 and would only have delayed the winds of change that has bought us to where we are today.
All’s well that ends well they say.
So now two years into the second decade of the new millennium, Germany finally have a team capable of rubbing shoulders with the class of the early 90s.
And what more, these are a likeable bunch too.
Led by the beguiling playmaking of Mesut Ozil, the tack-sharp finishing of Miroslav Klose, the casual arrogance of Thomas Muller and the languid brilliance of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Germany have forged both an exciting team and a formidable ideology. Able to pass the ball almost as well as Spain, and possessing the counter-attacking ability of the Brazil of 2010, Germany are arguably the most complete footballing side in the world at the moment.
What’s more, they have the results to back up that flighty claim as well.
They started the year with a 1-1 draw against Italy, where Guiseppe Rossi’s late equalizer spoiled an otherwise sparkling performance led by the ephemeral Ozil. Qualifying opponents were repeatedly dispatched with alarming regularity and little fuss; it seemed that this Germany had found the balance between the elan of their 70’s and the uber-professionalism of the 80’s.
Brazil was the next big challenge and Germany rose to that with aplomb. Without Ozil, the rare talents of Toni Kroos and Mario Gotze combined to put the South American’s to the sword in a performance of such contained brilliance that it was a wonder the scoreline was not more one-sided. And if Brazil laid the foundations, the Netherlands win, minus the talents of both Lahm and Schweinsteiger was the final push to elevate Germany into the pedestal as favourites for Euro 2012.
And that may just be their biggest problem going into the Euros later this year.
After fifteen years of knowing that they were not expected to win the title, the fact that they will now be, may prove to be a crucial mental stumbling block. But you can’t fault the Germans for preparation and this group already has experience of winning, albeit at the youth level. As Matthias Sammer said when Ozil and co, lifted the U-19 title, ‘winning is a habit that needs to be developed at an early age.’
But tournament pressure cannot be understated.
Germany were playing exceptional football in the lead-up to Euro 2008 as well. A 2-1 win at the Czech Republic had Franz Beckenbauer purring that they were the ‘best team in the world.’ There was surprisingly little opposition to the Kaiser’s statements and even as Germany tore Poland apart in that opening game in 2008, we all know what transpired the rest of the tournament.
But the more clear and present danger is the Germany defence. Long identified as their Achilles heel, the only good news is that the Christoph Metzelder days are over. But Per Mertesacker still lingers, as a forgotten relic of the past German generations of immobile center-halves. The gangly Mertesacker has had a tough bedding season at Arsenal but it is almost certain that he will hold down a spot come June, barring injury.
However, Loew has often trusted his players with great results and who is to say 2012 will not be the same. As Lahm put it, ‘Germany have finished 3rd, 2nd, 3rd in their last three international tournaments, it’s time to win now.’
We await with bated breath.
Latest posts by Quazi Zulquarnain (see all)
- From Bangladesh to the German National Team: Thank you - July 20, 2014
- In Defense of Pep Guardiola and Bayern Munich’s “Tiki-Taka” - April 27, 2014
- A Tribute to Michael Ballack - June 5, 2013