Thursday, 8 July 2010

Tomorrow Belongs To Them

By Shane Thomas

All of Germany probably woke up with very sore heads today after drowning their sorrows due to their country's footballers being knocked out of the World Cup last night. Having given the watching world the most thrilling football of the competition, they met their match in the European Champions, Spain. Die Mannschaft were thoroughly outclassed and deservedly beaten. But Germany should not be too despondent about their elimination. Not only have they played some wonderful football but they have quite a few reasons for optimism in the immediate future.

It has to be remembered that Germany were written off by many pundits as a contender to succeed in South Africa, even by some of their own countrymen. Indeed, in an earlier post, I felt that they'd reach their limit in the quarter-final stages. At the time, this statement was backed up by a lot of tangible evidence. Cruel luck with injuries had ripped out the heart of the side, many of its players were untried at this level of competition and the bulk of its established stars had come off the back of wretched domestic seasons for their clubs. While Bayern Munich impressed at home & on the continent (reaching the Champions League final) a lot of that team was made up of non-German players.

So why did Germany impress so much this summer? Well, all the question marks against the team were emphatically answered. The players who only got their chance due to injuries shone. It seems that the inherent focus that German players have in tournament conditions resides deep within the core of this generation. Bastian Schweinsteiger had to become the side's playmaker in the absence of the injured Michael Ballack, and has arguably been the player of the competition.

And as for the younger faces, they had no problem taking individual responsibilty to perform on the sport's biggest stage. They were not overawed by the occasion, but inspired by it - Mesut Ozil & Thomas Muller have been two of the stars of this World Cup. And while Lukas Podolski & Miroslav Klose have had shocking seasons for their clubs, they become giants when wearing their national shirt. They are both regarded as quite sensitive characters (especially Klose) and it is clear that their coach has shown the requisite belief in the pair to get them playing at their best.

Which leads me to the primary reason for Germany's strong showing, the coach Joachim Low. Despite some harsh criticism from his national press, and a ridiculous focus on his sartorial choices when by the side of the pitch, Low has shown unwavering faith in players who were deemed too young or lacking the mental strength needed for international football. It is clear that Low has made these players believe in themselves. This in turn has given them the freedom to feel comfortable on the pitch.

And while Low's man-management has been important, his tactical acumen also does him credit. He has managed to do what all good coaches do - masking his team's weaknesses while accentuating its strengths. Knowing that this Germany side lack the power of its predecessors, he got Germany to play a fast paced, fluid game, with the emphasis on keeping the ball on the floor and exploiting the inside-left and inside-right channels.

On the defensive side he covered his team's lack of pace by defending deep, and in numbers, so once their opponents conceded possession, they would counter-attack with purpose and forward intent. After the dominant victories over England and Argentina, Low explained in the post-match press conferences (in specific detail) how he targeted the opposition's weak spots. The players had total confidence in the Low blueprint and carried out the game plan to the letter and with dead-eyed ruthlessness.

Spain was a game too far in the end, mainly because the Spaniards are a side who very rarely concede possession and did a better job of pressing the ball than the Germans did. So while Low lacked a Plan B, he deserves a great deal of credit for motivating this group of players to shine in the Rainbow Nation, and devising a platform for them to give Australia, England & Argentina absolute pastings.

So where now for this young German side? They  have a clutch of players who have proved that the big tournaments are a hurdle they can easily negotiate. The likes of Muller and Ozil will be thinking that this international football lark is a doddle. They should also have the more experienced heads of Phillipp Lahm, Klose & Podolski to supplement this exciting young talent for a little while longer. And that's not forgetting players like Rene Adler and Simon Rolfes, who would have featured this summer had it not been for injury.

After their ignominious exit from Euro 2000 (they were even worse than England back then) the German FA took the necessary steps to overhaul the country's development system. They wanted to ensure that they could produce a solid conveyor belt of players that would prevent them ever being embarrassed on a global stage again. Ozil, Muller, Sami Khedira & Manuel Neuer are the first apples to fall from what looks to be a very fruitful tree. It may be worth checking the odds on Germany to win the next European Championship in two years time. A bit of forward planning may bring you a nice little profit. It sure did for Germany.

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