May 27, 2017

Euro 2012 and Germany: On a wing and a prayer

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.

Ozil and Muller are Germany’s brightest stars

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.

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Quazi Zulquarnain

There is no right, there is no wrong, there is only popular opinion. Follow me on twitter @nondeplume

8 Comments

  1. I do not think that Loew will have 1 place in reserve for Per. My prayer is, that he either put Badstuber and Hummels in the center backs, or maybe Badstuber and Boateng. Either option is better than any with Per as 1 of the center backs. Per is decent back, but Hummels and Bads are going to shine, remind us of Helmer – Kohler duo in their heyday.

  2. Yea I agree on Mertesacker. For a player his age and experience he is too prone for the odd lapse in concentration and in Germany’s new high paced style he is simply a step behind at times. I trust Merte in 90% of Germany’s matches but we’re talking about the possibility of playing Spain, Holland, Portugal, etc. All of which have players that can hurt Germany instantaneously by exploiting Mertesacker’s lack of pace. It’s not a matter of him not being a good defender because he is, for all his flaws, but its more about making the collective better overall.

  3. Henning, Thanks for your comments. As a wise man once said, what’s life without a little conflict eh?

    So let me start with Thomas Muller. I think here we are both saying the same thing in different ways. The adjective I used to describe him is ‘casual arrogance’. As you rightly suspect that was in no way a slight towards his personal characteristics, more an attempt to tangibly describe how I see his style of play. His fearlessness, the unique ability to not play against names but just what is put infront of him, his cheekiness as you so rightly put it — for me all that showcases a casual arrogance that in my eyes is absolutely brilliant. I feel that this is characteristic that all sportsmen should have, because if they can retain that, then they are half-way to being superstars.

    About Mertesacker, I guess we have to disagree. I have long been a defender of Per, ever since his days at Bremen where they kamikaze style often left him so brutally exposed and subject to blame for shipping goals. He is a good defensive organizer who lacks very little in the mental side of the game, but has never been able to put his physical gifts to any use. For such a big guy, he is strangely weak and easy to knock-off the ball, he is weak in the air, which is unforgivable given how tall he is. Don’t get me started on his turning arc. It is all strangely frustrating because given his physical abilities and his game intelligence, Mertesacker should really be an absolutely top defender. But he is not, and the helter skelter pace of the Premiership has shown that fact up.

  4. Disagree in only two points. Of course I will go on about these and not on what I agree on – but that’s the comments section for you, right?

    So, firstly: I don’t know how you find “casual arrogance” in Thomas Mueller’s ways. This guy is so down to earth he’s planking in mud. Is it his way of playing, the way his foxy movement and passing can dumbfound his opponents? I still don’t believe that is arrogance, I think it is his Bavarian jester’s ways. The left-field throwaway jokes he often does in interviews are just as canny. That’s just him, he’s a sly guy, forever chuckling at himself. I love how he has maintained his “not-taking-things-so-bloody-serious”-thang, even at this level. Let’s hope he can carry it further into his career and may experience and maturity never take over his cheekiness. His game wouldn’t be the same.

    Also, i think Mertesacker is underrated. Now that he has adapted to the PL he can only have improved. Look at Arsenals upturn of fortunes since his arrival – this is surely not only down to him but he can’t have been so detrimental, can he? I have no fear with him in the defensive line. Yet I also think that while Badstuber’s place is guaranteed due to his passing prowess, Per’s isn’t, and we might see a Hummels/Badstuber pairing after all. Loew is not so sentimental that he would play Mertesacker on his past achievements.

    Cheers!

  5. I’d rather say “German national anthem”/”Deutsche Nationalhymne” (if you want a german word..).
    Only one strophe of the “Deutschlandlied” is part of the national anthem.

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