It has been a year or two since the world fell head over heels in love with German football, although the past season has seen a dimming of the light in Munich, mostly because of the way Real Madrid dismantled Pep’s team and also due Uli Hoeness’ tax return. It serves to rmind us that even the most impregnable fortresses can be scaled, as the “decline” of Barca has also demonstrated in the past few months.
But the German national team looks in good shape and with Spain not looking quite as formidable this year, this World Cup could be Die Mannschaft’s time. History tells us that European sides do not win outside their own timezone, but if anyone from the old world is equipped to break that habit, it is surely Joachim Loew’s Germany.
Now or never?
People have been saying for two World Cup’s that Germany are on the brink of greatness, but in both 2006 and 2010 they finished third, running out of steam in both competitions. Despite a group of excellent players, they have not yet fulfilled their promise. But they are still young – the average of age of the predicted starting eleven is around 26, which is the optimal age for World Cup winners.
Some German players seem to have been around for ever. Philip Lahm, Lukas Podolski, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Per Mertesecker have been in the squad for three World Cups and if Miroslav Klose, the grand old man of the forward line, makes the cut, it will be his fourth.
Players like Mesut Ozil (25), Toni Kroos (24), Thomas Mueller (24), Marco Reus and Mario Goetze (21) are all in their prime, but in 2018, although they will still be playing at the top (unless something drastic happens), they will be four years older and arguably less effective.
If the current batch of players is going to win something it is either in Brazil or in France in two years. The Germans have had some setbacks recently and that leaves Schweinsteiger, Ozil, Klose, Sami Khedira and now Lahm, far from full fitness. They’ve got time to patch them up, but the absence of key players will stymie their chances in the heat of Latin America.
If there’s one team that systemically brushes aside inferior opposition in qualifying groups, it is Germany. They did it in style for 2014, winning nine of their 10 games and drawing the other (4-4) with Sweden. They scored at least three goals in all but one of those 10 games, including away victories in Ireland (6-1) and Sweden ( 5-3).
Germany have lost just once in their past four World Cup qualifying campaigns. Since 1996, including European Championship and World Cup group games, they have lost four of their 86 qualifying tournament fixtures. Much of this can be attributed to the dilution of quality across European football, but it also speaks volumes for their consistency. Put simply, they are a shoe-in for any major competition.
Germany have won three World Cups: 1954, 1974 and 1990. Since they started becoming a world footballing power, they have never gone so long without a World Cup (!). It has hardly felt like a barren period – they have won the European Championship since their last World Cup in 1990 – but in the intervening years, teams like France and Spain have usurped them.
Invariably, the Germans claim they have a “poor” side in every competition, but that doesn’t stop them reaching the last four. They’ve never had to suffer the steep decline that has hit English football over the years, although in the late 1990s, German football went through some serious self-analysis that eventually sowed the seeds of resurgence.
There’s a big difference from Loew’s side and the German power and strength sides of the 1980s and early 1990s. Loew likes attacking football as 254 goals in 103 games under his stewardship shows. He has a win rate of 67.96%, better than any of his predecessors, including the great Helmut Schoen. All he needs now is a trophy and then he can look Berti Vogts, Franz Beckenbauer, Jupp Derwall and of course, the memory of Schoen in the eye.
Can they do it?
Last four for sure. Then who knows. They should win a group comprising USA, Ghana and Portugal, which should mean they meet up with Brazil in the semi-final. Good luck with that one, Herr Loew!