Klose ties Gerd Müller, Lahm reaches 100 caps and Germany one step closer to Brazil

Germany’s 3-0 win in their World Cup qualifier against Austria was all about milestones.  Captain Philipp Lahm became only the 11th player to reach 100 caps for the national team while Miroslav Klose finally equalled a record most thought was unreachable, tying the great Gerd Müller as Germany’s all time top goalscorer. Meanwhile, coach Joachim Löw got his much needed clean sheet after a week of intense pressure to improve the team’s defensive performance.

Indeed, it was smiles all around Munich following Germany’s win against their regional rivals. Going into the game though much of the talk surrounded the team’s recurring defensive problems with players and coach emphasizing the need to tighten up at the back.  On that note, Löw started Per Mertesacker instead of Mats Hummels alongside Jerome Boateng and Toni Kroos started in midfield next to Sami Khedira.  The rest was as expected with Austria trying to get their first win against Germany since 1986.

In Kroos control 

Bad pun aside, Germany dominated from beginning to end in large part thanks to Kroos and Khedira in the middle.  The pair outplayed and outran Kavlak and Alaba in the center of the pitch and were actively involved in many of Germany’s attacks.  Khedira had Germany’s first good chance ten minutes in and after pressure increased towards the end of the first half Kroos played Müller in to assist the opening goal.

It took the visitors a good 40 minutes to muster their first opportunity when Alaba took his chances from 30 yards out.  From there on much of the same continued for the remainder of the game.  Khedira and Kroos alternated as the deepest midfielder with the other roaming forward.   Kroos’ goal in the 51st minute was a perfect example of their effective interchangeability.  Khedira saw Kroos go forward, took a couple of steps back and opened up space for the Bayern midfielder.  Reus laid off the ball and Kroos released one of his trademark shots past Austrian goalkeeper Almer.

Without Schweinsteiger Germany were missing their midfield metronome and Austria have troubled them in this area in the past but you wouldn’t know it this time based on how well Kroos and Khedira did.  Kroos also helped set up Germany’s third with a delightful through ball to Höwedes on the left in the 88th minute.  For once, Germany looked stable at the back without compromising their edge and creativity in the attack and both were due to the work done by the two.  Much of what makes Germany so exciting is the plethora of attacking options up front but in Khedira, Kroos, Gündogan and Schweinsteiger, Germany’s biggest strength may just be in the central midfield.

Looking towards Brazil

A win against the Faroe Islands on Tuesday will officially wrap up qualification for Löw’s side and the focus can shift on properly planning for Brazil.  Part of that preparation then has to be finding the first choice center back pairing.  Löw has alternated between Hummels, Boateng and Mertesacker so far and even gave Höwedes a chance in the middle but with time running out and defensive performances fluctuating, the pressure to reach a final decision is only going to improve.

Similarly, while Klose’s instincts in front of goal and physical fitness is remarkably sharp at the age of 35, the fact that he lost a step is very apparent.  In Gomez Löw has a good alternative on the bench but with Götze, Schürrle, Müller, Draxler and Max Kruse all available the tactical direction is split. Flexibility is important and Germany has the resources to play a variety of systems and he has experimented with the strikerless formation earlier this and last year.  What direction he chooses will also influence his roster selection going into next year and that is something that is still very much in the process of playing out.

Reactions

Joachim Löw: “We had two, three days to prepare this week and did our homework.  We knew how Austria would play and took advantage and our defense played well also. The clean sheet makes me very happy but most important of all is the win of course.”

Miroslav Klose: “Everyone knows how old I am and it’s been a while since I’ve done my flips so I’d prefer to leave that aside. The goal means a lot though but I don’t want to put myself on Gerd’s level.”

Mesut Özil: “We’re all very happy with the result.  We scored goals and were strong at the back.  We can be proud. We showed who was boss on the field tonight.”

Philipp Lahm: “When you beat the second placed team in the group 3-0 it’s great.  We were strong defensively and let them create very little but we also still creative going forward and scored our goals. We used this week very well but we have to continue to work hard.”

Remaining Qualifying fixtures:

September 10, 2013 – vs Faroe Islands (Tórshavn)

October 11, 2013 – vs. Ireland (Köln)

October 15, 2013 – vs Sweden (Stockholm)

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Cristian Nyari

Cristian is a football writer and analyst living in New York City, fascinated with the history and study of the beautiful game and all it entails. Follow Cristian on twitter @Cnyari

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