Ozil dictates dizzying tempo as German gamble pays off
Saturday 23 June 2012
Was this a glimpse of the future in Gdansk then? And not just for England. Possibly for the tournament and international football.
In the four years since Germany lost the final of this competition to Spain, Joachim Löw has built a brilliant new young side that looks as if it is very close to a crescendo. The country's 16-year wait for an international trophy may well be coming to an end.
Nevertheless, on the eve of the quarter-final, the Germans still spoke respectfully of the need for even more "patience" against such a durable Greece defence.
On starting the game, though, it didn't exactly look like that: either in terms of patience or the durability of the Greece backline.
Twice in the opening four minutes, Germany absolutely ripped through them. Two very close and ominous offside calls were made. In every sense, the Greek defence was living on the edge.
Indeed, it was testament to the integration of the German attack that the three surprise starters – André Schürrle , Marco Reus and Miroslav Klose, who only had a total of 74 minutes of Euro 2012 football between them – didn't affect fluidity in anyway. Before the game, it had seemed a gamble. To be truthful, it was seamless.
In a perfect illustration of the productivity of Germany's superb football infrastructure, they were still moving the ball from one end of the pitch to the other and, indeed, between each other at unbelievable and almost unplayable speeds. It is a style that has become standard at many German clubs.
It helped, of course, that the Germans have had one mainstay in their four games: the team's playmaker and pace-setter, Mesut Ozil.
Frequently moving between the lines and linking up play at lightning pace, the 23-year-old defines this dynamic young squad in which as many as 12 players are either his age or even younger.
As such, the eventual sources of the opening and final German goals were somewhat ironic. They came from the two oldest players in the starting XI. First, Philipp Lahm burst from deep to send a swerving shot past the generally hapless Michalis Sifakis. Then, on 68 minutes, Klose rose to expose Sifakis again. Awesome at either end of the spectrum.
If there is one flaw in this German team, though, it is at the other end of the pitch. The breakneck nature of their attack can lead to an unusually open backline, with Manuel Neuer effectively forced to play as a sweeper to fill the gaps. And, as Georgios Samaras illustrated on 57 minutes with his equaliser, that often isn't enough. Indeed, not unlike Spain, the nature of their possession can occasionally cause them press far too precariously.
Swifter attackers – such as Antonio Di Natale or Theo Walcott – may have even more joy.
Of course, all that did was, typically, inspire an even swifter response. Within minutes, Sami Khedira almost burst the net with a brilliant volley.
And that illustrated another attribute of this team: character. After the first Greek goal, they simply upped their game and became even more unplayable. Indeed, Reus illustrated that with extreme prejudice as he lashed an unstoppable shot home for the fourth.
That's all probably just as well. The one inevitable offset of youth, after all, is a lack of savvy accrued from experience. As such, in order to overcome the imposing winning mentality of the Spaniards – or, indeed, the percentage-playing conservatism of the Italians or English – Löw's players may well require that character to complete the team.
Either way, the future seems very close.
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