October 24, 2017

Rio 2016 Preview for die Olympiamannschaft

The Berlin Wall was still up, Rain Man was playing in theatres, Jerome Boateng was born and the Olympic Summer Games were held in South Korea’s national capital Seoul.

Welcome to 1988. West Germany’s Olympiamannschaft won a Bronze medal that year, thanks to young studs like Jürgen Klinsmann, “Kalle” Riedle and “Icke” Häßler on the team.
In the semifinal our Olympians faced a loaded Brazil side, featuring 1994 World Cup winners Bebeto & Romario, that was too good on that day. But in the Bronze Medal match “Klinsi & Icke” responded well and beat Italy 3:0.

1988 Olympics Collage

Wait, Italy? Didn’t we just read tons of articles about some “Italienfluch” (italian curse), that prevented German teams from beating the Squadra Azzurra at major tournaments for half a century. A curse which finally was broken by Jonas Hector’s penalty?

Well, none of the articles I’ve come across mentioned that 3:0 in Seoul. It seems strange, because technically Germany has eliminated Italy from a major tournament 28 years before the recent Euro 2016 Quarterfinal clash, here is video evidence:

But let’s be honest here, in football discussions the Olympic Cup doesn’t matter.

Germany’s Olympic men’s football history (sucks)

Side Note: I am talking exclusively about the men’s game, Germany’s women have won three bronze medals so far and qualified for every Olympics since 1996, when women’s football was introduced. East German men’s teams have won a Gold*, a Silver* and a Bronze*, but those medals need an asterisk beside them because of the state run PED programs in the GDR.

Our medal count is embarrassing compared to what Die Mannschaft has achieved in FIFA and UEFA competitions.

Germany’s first Olympic team competed in Stockholm 1912, we went home empty handed that time and the medal drought continued for next twelve Olympics or 76 years.

1988’s Bronze was a one off deal it seems, because the DFB men’s teams failed to qualify for Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney, Athens, Beijing and London.

To give you some perspective how long 28 years are: during Germany’s 28 year long Olympic absence, I’ve graduated from Elementary School, High School, College and have been working for years now.

Even though the Berlin Wall is gone today, there still seem to be two German nations.
One that competes at FIFA World Cups with great success and one that hasn’t made the Olympics once in the post Cold War era.

DFB Trophy Room
The DFB Trophy room with plenty of space for a 2016 Gold Medal.

Qualification Issues

To be fair though, making the Olympics is pretty difficult.

Germany’s confederation UEFA gets a total of four Olympic spots, therefore a semi final appearance at the U21 Euro is the admission for the Olympics ticket. Since U21 Euros are held biannually by UEFA, not only do you have to make the semis you also have to do it during the “right” Euro.

Poldi and Basti ushered in a new era.
Poldi and Basti ushered in a new era.

Germany’s underachieving youth teams (U21, U20, U19, U17…) were an afterthought at the DFB for decades. Nobody cared that we were a non factor at the youth level.

Die Mannschaft was winning despite the lack of a sophisticated nationwide youth program and everybody was feeling a little too good about themselves at the DFB.

Well, the wheels were slowly coming off at the 1994 & 1998 World Cups and when
Die Mannschaft got kicked out during the group stage in consecutive Euros (2000 & 2004) it became clear that more than a quick fix is needed.

Not only did we lose, we got humiliated because of systemic issues.

Youth development suddenly was a priority at the DFB HQ in Frankfurt, the plan was to copy what France and the Netherlands were doing. France had won major titles in 1998 and 2000 with a roster made of graduates from the French national scouting & development program.

The DFB opened its wallet and hired the best experts on youth football money can buy to implement similar programs in Germany.

By 2009 the DFB reaped the rewards for rebooting it’s youth system, when a legendary U21 team won the Euro in the most dominant fashion imaginable – five years later, this group won the World Cup.

Unfortunately the 2009 team didn’t go to London because the 2011 U21 Euro was actually the relevant tournament for 2012 Olympic qualification.

Last year all the stars aligned when a talented U21 squad built around Ter Stegen, Emre Can and Kevin Volland reached the U21 semi final. Fortunately it was the “right” Euro this time, so here we are. Let’s go for Gold!

Format, Schedule and Favorites

Rio Olympics Groups

Football has been part of the Olympics since 1900 with a few breaks in between. Before the FIFA was founded and the World Cup was introduced, the Olympic Cup was actually the most prestigious title in world football.

Can Neymar remedy the 7:1?
Can Neymar remedy the 7:1?

Uruguay’s FA wears four stars on their jersey, because the Uru’s count those 1924 & 1928 Olympic Gold medals as World Championships.

But the meteoric rise of the FIFA World Cup coupled with professionalism in European leagues, all but killed the Olympic Cup. UEFA introduced the Euro in 1960, an Olympic year, which was a dead sentence for the Olympics as far as European interest was concerned.

Prior to the Olympics in Atlanta 1996 the IOC and FIFA made a deal that allowed Olympic nations to call up U23 players plus three additional veterans.

The Olympic sixteen team tournament format works like the World Cups did prior to USA 94, the Third Place match which determines the Bronze winner.

The runaway favorite for Gold is not surprisingly the home team at even odds.
La Selecao can rely on the services of PSG’s Marquinhos, Lazio’s Felipe Anderson, Barca’s Rafinha and Justin Bieber’s new BFF Neymar. Brazil’s fiercest rival, the Argentinian Seleccion at 5.5 to 1 odds, are the second strongest team according to bookmakers.

Tevez celebrating his 2004 Gold in Athens.
Tevez celebrating his 2004 Gold in Athens.

Argentina’s FA took the Olympics very seriously in recent history. Di Maria, Messi and Aguero performed in Beijing 2008, Tevez and Mascherano were active in Athens 2004.

In 2016 however, Atletico Madrid’s duo of Luciano Vietto and Angel Correa are the biggest stars on the roster, the rest of the team consists of domestic prospects.

Portugal at 10 to 1 odds would be a strong contender if they were able to send that 2015 group of players, but most of the team that whipped Germany’s behind 5:0 at the U21 Euro is off to bigger things. William Carvalho, Renato Sanches, Rafael Guerreiro and Joao Mario won the senior Euro in France and won’t suit up for the Olympics.

Germany at 7 to 1 odds is what I would call a “wildcard”, but more on that later.

To be honest, any projection or analysis is kinda pointless, Olympic Cups seldom play out like one would expect. While teams from small nations keep designated Olympic Teams, that work out together for years, big nations send random players who get a week or so of preparation time. Germany’s players meet up on July 27th and play Mexico on August 4th, not a lot of time for Horst Hrubesch to work with. This explains why small nations so much success at the Olympics.
Nigeria, Cameroon, Sweden, Belgium and Mexico are light years away from winning a World Cup, but they all have won a Gold medal. In recent Olympics teams like Iraq, Japan and Australia have made deep runs.

While a Germany/Argentina/Brazil match up in the final looks like the obvious pick on paper, this isn’t a foregone conclusion at all. Rio 2016 will probably be a crapshoot like past Olympic Cups.

Germany’s group of Mexico, South Korea and Fiji would be a cakewalk if this this was a World Cup but Mexico are the reigning Gold medal holders while South Korea won the Bronze in London. Silly as it sounds, Germany is not the runaway favorite in this group.

Cohesive team play, sophisticated tactics and thousands of minutes on the pitch together can offset any disparity in individual talent, so expect some surprises.

Die Olympiamannschaft 2016

Germany’s U21 & Olympic coach, HSV Legend Horst Hrubesch.
Germany’s U21 & Olympic coach, HSV Legend Horst Hrubesch.

The squad the DFB will send to Rio is a compromise between the league and the DFB. Olympics aren’t an official FIFA tournament, Bundesliga clubs could have refused to send any players to Rio, but no GM wanted any headlines like “Greedy Bundesliga clubs hurt Germany’s Olympic team”.

So a deal between the DFB and the league was made.

Horst Hrubesch got to pick Bundesliga pro’s but had to slap together his roster without players who:

  • were on Löw’s Euro 2016 roster
  • completed a transfer this in the 2016 summer window
  • are needed in CL/EL Qualification matches

That meant Leno, Weigl, Dahoud, Volland, Karius, Weiser, Tah, Draxler, Stark, Emre Can and Kimmich among others were off limits for Hrubesch.

But thanks to Germany’s currently very deep talent pool the DFB’s Rio 2016 squad still looks pretty intriguing on paper. Note: Players expected to start are bolded.

Keeper:

  • Timo Horn (1. FC Köln),
  • Jannik Huth (1. FSV Mainz 05)
Cuddly keeper Timo Horn.
Cuddly keeper Timo Horn.

Horn has been one of the best goalkeepers in the league for two seasons in a row, his lack of international experience at Köln is the only thing that prevented him from going to France with the “real” Mannschaft. But he’s the future of German goalkeeping and will play for a big club at some point. Germany might have the best goalkeeper at the Olympics. End of story.

Defense:

  • Robert Bauer (FC Ingolstadt),
  • Matthias Ginter (Borussia Dortmund),
  • Lukas Klostermann (RB Leipzig),
  • Philipp Max (SC Freiburg),
  • Niklas Süle (1899 Hoffenheim),
  • Jeremy Toljan (1899 Hoffenheim)
Terminator at back: Hoffenheim's Niklas Süle
Terminator at back: Hoffenheim’s Niklas Süle

No need to get into any details, because we have no idea what type of defensive system Hrubesch has in mind. But no matter how those guys will line up, I actually feel pretty comfortable with Süle and Ginter around, even against Brazil’s Neymar powered offense.

This will be an above average defense no matter what, Ginter is a World Champion with tons of experience and Niklas Süle is one of the most promising center back prospects in Europe.

Klostermann and Toljan are also battle tested professionals, this groups in front of Horn should be good enough to keep Germany in most games.

Midfield:

  • Lars Bender (Leverkusen),
  • Sven Bender (Borussia Dortmund),
  • Max Christiansen (FC Ingolstadt),
  • Leon Goretzka (FC Schalke 04),
  • Max Meyer (FC Schalke 04),
  • Serge Gnabry (FC Arsenal),
  • Julian Brandt (Leverkusen)
Bender Twins
Die “Bender Zwillinge” will anchor Germany’s defensive midfield.

With all due respect to the fifteen other teams, but this is the part of the pitch where Germany will wipe the floor with any opponent. The Bender twins are reunited for the first time since their youth days at 1860 Munich, thanks to the “three players older than 23” exception.

Not only is this a neat “feel good story”, these two can also really play.

When healthy, the Bender’s are among the best midfielders in the Bundesliga. Sadly though, both twins have had terrible luck with injuries and can’t manage to stay on the field for sustained periods of time.

In front of the “Bender Zwillinge”, two Schalker Knappen (Max Meyer & Goretzka) will link up with Bayer’s Julian Brandt. They’ve played together on multiple DFB youth squads and won’t need much time to adjust. Germany might not have anybody available who is a good as Felipe Anderson, but all of our projected starters have experience at the highest level.

Attack:

  • Nils Petersen (SC Freiburg),
  • Davie Selke (RB Leipzig),
  • Grischa Prömel (Karlsruher SC)
Give us some Selkie, please.
Give us some Selkie.

In attack Germany should be OK as well. Freiburg’s Nils Petersen is the third “old guy” on the team thanks to a 21 goal 2.Bundesliga season. Selke was the most expensive German second division player of all time last summer, but he had to share minutes with Yussuf Poulsen in Leipzig and couldn’t score in double figures last season.

But Selke’s talent is undeniable, he has killed it at the U19 level and looking at Gomez’ age and Müller’s ineffectiveness as a number nine, Selke is the player Löw badly needs to become great quickly. He might not be the best project, Bayern’s Kimmich is the undisputed “next big thing”, but Selke is the most important prospect for Russia 2018.

Hrubesch, a former striker, likes to play two upfront. And with such little time to work on tactics and finesse, ugly goals from set pieces and high crosses will be crucial for Germany in this tournament. Petersen and Selke will put us in a good spot to convert these random chances.

The following players are on call and will join the roster if one of the 18 guys above gets hurt: Leonardo Bittencourt (1. FC Köln), Christian Günter (SC Freiburg), Sebastian Kerk (1. FC Nürnberg), Eric Oelschlägel (Werder Bremen).

Verdict

All in all, the team Hrubesch put together looks pretty good on paper. And as long as it says “Deutscher Fussball Bund” on a black & white Adidas jersey, winning is expected anyways.

So who am I kidding, anything but a medal would be a disappointment.

What's at stake for Olympiamannschaft in Rio.
What’s at stake for die Olympiamannschaft in Rio.

This team might not be good enough to beat Brazil in a hypothetic Gold Medal Match at the Maracana. But if those eighteen guys don’t have anything hanging around their neck when they come home, it would be a little disappointing.

For any further information visit FIFA’s page devoted to the men’s Olympic competition.

 

 

 

 

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