Germany end World Cup qualifying campaign with 8-goal thriller

Joachim Löw’s Germany finished one of their best ever qualifying campaigns with a highly entertaining 5-3 win against Sweden in Stockholm.  Germany finish as group winners, unbeaten in their ten games and with the best offense in UEFA qualifying.  Andre Schürrle was the standout player on the day, scoring a 19-minute hatrick.  Also on the scoresheet for Germany were Mesut Özil and Mario Götze.

Löw made two changes from their 3-0 win against Ireland.  Mats Hummels was given the nod in defense ahead of Per Mertesacker and Sami Khedira had to sit out with an injury, Max Kruse slotting in up top with Toni Kroos dropping alongside centennial Bastian Schweinsteiger who made his 100th appearance for Germany.  Sweden were without thair marquee player Zlatan Ibrahimovic but still fresh on everyone’s minds was the collapse last year where Sweden came back to tie the game after trailing 4-0.

Early jitters and defensive trade-off

This time around it seemed the exact opposite was taking place.  Sweden took an early lead through Tobias Hysen.  The early goal shocked Germany into life after a sluggish start but found it hard to really create meaningful chances.  Before the break then Sweden got another after a ball over the top caught Boateng out of position, putting Alexander Kacaniklic one-on-one with Neuer and for an easy finish.  Fortunately for Germany, Özil pulled a goal back in stoppage time of the first half, controlling a Kruse pass brilliantly before slotting home his eighth goal in qualifying, behind only Robin van Persie and Edin Dzeko.

With Germany so focused on attacking and the backline playing so high, quick balls over the top or behind defenders have been a problem for the team throughout qualifying and going back to the last World Cup.  It was the case when they last played Sweden and again in Stockholm on this day.  Playing a high backline is extremely risky and requires impeccable communication and recovery speed from defenders.  Despite gradual improvement in defense it still seems like it’s a trade-off the team cannot avoid with their offensive playing style.

 Second half rush

The game really got going in the second half.  Mario Götze came on for Thomas Müller and immediately injected an additional verve and edge into Germany’s game.  With Kroos playing deeper Özil could have benefitted from another creative presence next to him and Götze served that function well in the second half. He and Özil played well off each other for the remainder of the game and the two were involved in three of Germany’s five goals.

The equalizer came after a great run from Schürrle and excellent combination from Özil and Kruse.  It was an easy finish for Götze and an example of the great synergy between players who became more comfortable together as the game wore on.  Schürrle provided a directness, Özil the creative mind and Götze the incisiveness in front of goal.  The combinations were superb and every attack became more and more dangerous.  Sweden’s defense became overwhelmed and unable to contain a rotating group of players in front of their box.

Schürrle then took over the game.  The Chelsea attacker scored three wonderful goals in a span of 19 minutes to put the game beyond Sweden despite pulling a goal back in the 69th minute.  For Schürrle the performance capped off a wonderful week in which he was arguably Germany’s best player alongside Mesut Özil.  Löw has three strong options on the left now with Marco Reus, Lukas Podolski and Andre Schürrle, each needing to raise their game to compete with the other.

Next up, Brazil

With the win against Sweden Germany also set a new record in team history, scoring 36 goals in qualifying, two more than the team did in 1982.  It put an encouraging bookmark on an extremely impressive qualifying campaign.  While work remains to be done, particularly with the defense, this qualifying campaign proved more than anything that Germany’s offense is perhaps the best in the world.  With two or three excellent options in each position, Löw can comfortably field two full lineups that could score against any side in the world.  The team’s attacking game has been honed to near perfection and players are hitting their stride at just the right time.

The biggest question really is whether an attack as potent as theirs will be enough in a tournament that has become very defensive in nature.  A strong attack can get a team far in the competition but a great defense can take it all the way. That, along with integrating and fine tuning an extremely large talent pool, will be Löw’s big task with the days to Brazil counting down.

Reactions

Joachim Löw: “We went down two goals because of two isolated incidents.  Otherwise we had a lot of possession.  In the second half we were more effective in front of goal.  We knew that we couldn’t make such mistakes in defense but still they happened.”

Bastian Schweinsteiger: “It is always nice when so many goals happpen but a 5-3 is not a good result.  Despite that, it’s still nice that we won.  I would have preferred a 2-0 though.  It was an odd first half because Sweden had two chances and scored twice. As far as quality is concerned we were naturally better than Sweden without Ibrahimovic.  Looking at our points total I’d say we had a very good qualifying campaign.”

Philipp Lahm: “One always wants to win.  When one wins the group and qualifies it’s not always so easy.  But the team approached the situation with great concentration. We dominated the game and deservedly won. There is still work to be done though, not just defensively but offensively as well.”

Andre Schürrle: “It was the first time I scored three goals in a game.  Maybe I’ll give the ball to my mother.  But important in the end is that we won. The three goals conceded are frustrating but we saw the kind of ability we have going forward.”

Header courtesy of Getty & dfb.de

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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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