They scored four against Australia, but just how good are Löw's men?
Tuesday 15 June 2010
In some respects England's performance against the US has been judged harshly. They were the superior team against opponents who are far better than perceived – the US are the only team to have beaten Spain in 47 matches, the only ones not to have lost to Spain in 39.
However, the contrast between England's often pedestrian display and that produced by Germany on Sunday was stark. Joachim Löw's side produced the first outstanding display of this tournament, shredding an admittedly ageing and disorganised Australian defence so often that even a four-goal margin did not reflect their superiority. It was a performance to make other teams beware, notably England, who could meet Germany in the second round.
The worry for Fabio Capello is that Germany's movement from midfield will exploit the inevitable lack of understanding between John Terry and whoever partners him. There are also the problems Mesut Ozil will cause. English teams traditionally have trouble picking up players who operate between the defensive and midfield lines. Nearly 40 years ago one of Ozil's predecessors in the role, Gunter Netzer, took Sir Alf Ramsey's England apart at Wembley in the European Championship quarter-finals. Ozil also has form, making two and scoring one as Germany's Under-21s defeated England's in the European Championship last summer.
Three of that side started on Sunday – Ozil, goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and midfielder Sami Khedira. Jerome Boateng, on the bench on Sunday, also played in Finland while Marko Marin and Dennis Aogo, were on the bench for both matches.
It is not so long ago that the Germans were bemoaning the lack of young players coming through their system. There has since been a revamp of their coaching structure and mentality. The later began with Jürgen Klinsmann's appointment as coach after a miserable Euro 2004. Klinsmann promoted young players and an attacking brand of football. When he moved aside in 2006 Löw, his assistant, stepped up and maintained those themes. He has created a young, talented and exciting team.
Miroslav Klose, who appears to have rediscovered his scoring touch, leads the line in a 4-5-1 formation. Bastian Schweinsteiger, reining in his attacking instincts without compromising his influence rather more successfully than either Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard seem able to, anchors the midfield. On the flanks are the versatile front-runner Thomas Müller, one of the discoveries of the season with Bayern Munich, and the enigmatic Lukas Podolski, 25 this month. Four years ago Podolski partnered Klose up front in a conventional 4-4-2 (Schweinsteiger was wide midfield). Now he plays left-wing. Despite three poor seasons at club level he is an integral part of Löw's team and was involved in three of Sunday's goals.
Between this pair are Khedira, who plays alongside Schweinsteiger but has licence to break forward, and Ozil. The quintet are constantly seeking to release one another behind the opposing back four with clever through passes and smart movement.
And yet, all good teams need a stroke of fortune. Germany's might prove to be the moment, at Wembley last month, when Kevin-Prince Boateng's bad challenge put Michael Ballack out of these finals. Ballack has been Germany's dominant player for nearly a decade but, at 33, he lacks the movement and energy of the new wave. Löw yesterday suggested that Khedira reminded him of a young Ballack. He added: "With Ballack missing, I had to look for a solution. Ballack was an important player who has immense experience but it seems up to now we have dealt with his absence fairly well."
Fearsome or flattered? Germany's attacking quintet
Mesut Ozil Age: 21, Club: Werder Bremen
Operates between opposition's defensive and midfield lines, an adept dribbler, accurate left foot
Miroslav Klose Age: 31, Club: Bayern Munich
Striker has scored five goals at each of the last two World Cups, leads the line in 4-5-1 formation
Sami Khedira Age: 23, Club: Stuttgart
Tall, strong central midfielder has far more licence to break forward than his partner, Schweinsteiger
Thomas Müller Age: 20, Club: Bayern Munich
Tidy passer is deployed on the right but happy operating anywhere across the front line
Lukas Podolski Age: 24, Club: Cologne
Like Klose, born in Poland. Came off the left flank to have a hand in three goals against Australia
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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