ON paper, Germany have all the components of a World Cup winning team, yet it remains one of the biggest conundrums in football that they remain trophy-less since 1996.
Joachim Low’s current crop have been labelled Germany’s finest team since the 1970s, boasting the perfect mixture of flair, grace, style and thrust, but so far they have fallen short when most expected them to replace Spain as world football’s dominant force.
Their domestic league’s stock has certainly risen with Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund further enhancing the widespread view that Germany has taken over their Spanish counterparts, but in the last two major tournaments, Low’s men have acquired a very un-German habit of losing when it counts.
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In South Africa and then Poland and Ukraine, Germany sailed through their groups, before making light work of the early knock-out stages. In 2010, there was the 4–1 win over England in the round of 16, followed by a 4-0 humiliation of Argentina in the quarterfinals.
However, when they were pitted against Euro 2008 champions Spain in the semis, they bottled it, losing 1–0 to a late Carlos Puyol goal.
A similar pattern followed in 2012 when after a perfect group stage, Germany enhanced their trophy credentials with a 4–2 quarter-final over Greece, only to be edged out in the last four by an Italy side that would go on to lose 4-0 to Spain in the final.
Both opportunities greatly missed and there is a feeling that Brazil is make or break time for Low, who was criticised for his tactical blunder in the semi-final defeat to Italy in 2012.
Supporters bemoan a lack of killer instinct and ‘Jogi’s’ decision to name only one natural striker – 35-year-old Miroslav Klose – has once again set him up for a fall.
In Low’s defence, he does have a myriad of attacking talent at his disposal that should make up for a lack of out and out forwards, while a strong back line will aid their preferred style to build from the back with short passes quickly moving the ball up to the three men behind the lone striker.
The problem this year is the overall fitness of the squad. In March, Low issued what he termed a ‘wake-up’ call to his players saying they had to make sure they arrived in Brazil in the perfect physical shape. A thinly-veiled attempt to get his excuses in early?
In fairness, it has been a season of woe for the Germans in terms of injuries with several key players missing chunks of the season, particularly in the Bundesliga. And abroad, Sami Khedira has only just returned from a serious knee injury, while Lukas Podolski, left, also missed months of action at Arsenal.
The loss of Lars Bender due to a thigh injury is also significant blow, meaning Bastian Schweinsteiger and Khedira will remain the preferred two-man central axis even though both have missed large part of the season.
WHILE Germany will undoubtedly start as favourites to top Group G, the battle for second spot may not be as straightforward.
With Cristiano Ronaldo, pictured below, going into the tournament on the back of his most prolific season to date with Real Madrid, Portugal will be expected to join Joachim Low’s men in the knock-out stages, but does Paulo Bento have a squad capable of backing up to their star man’s quality and getting them over the line?
They possess some talented midfielders in William Carvalho and Joau Moutinho, but other than Ronaldo they lack a top-level goalscorer and that could prove problematic against some backlines if it isn’t the Real Madrid attacker’s day.
Bar Maradona in 1986, when he led an average Argentina side to victory, relying on the talent of one player is dangerous and Bento will need his entire starting XI to produce.
They reached the knockout stages of the last two World Cups in Germany and South Africa, albeit after progressing from relatively easier groups, and it will be interesting to see how they fair in a trickier group. Under Jurgen Klinsmann, The USA are keen to build on their performance last time out when they topped England’s group in South Africa, but whether they can achieve that is bound to come down to their opening fixture against Ghana.
A result in that game will give the Americans hope, but after Landon Donovan’s shock omission Klinsmann is taking a huge risk when you look at the rest of his attacking line-up.
Sunderland’s Jozy Altidore, who managed only two goals in his first season at the Stadium of Light, is likely to lead the line for the USA and although Clint Dempsey has an abundance of experience you have to feel his best years are behind him. They are more than capable of hanging on in games and frustrating the opposition, but those attributes won’t be enough to see them through.
Ghana perhaps have a better chance of upsetting the ‘big two’ in this group having been the only African team to advance past the group stages at the last two tournaments and in 2010 they came agonisingly close to becoming the first side from their continent to reach the semi-finals after the dramatic penalty shoot-out defeat to Uruguay in the last eight.