There is no greater sporting spectacle on the planet than the FIFA World Cup. Though the Olympics is the only true global competition in terms of nations being represented, the lifeblood of the global sporting world revolves around a period of one-month every four years.
Over a billion viewers will tune in on their flat screen TV’s at home, meet at the pub to sit at the bar at 2am, or find a dodgy internet stream and risk complete viral meltdown of their personal device. We, as lovers of the beautiful game, will do whatever it takes to bear witness to a sporting event that is the very personification of who we are as a race and who we are as individuals.
You will experience joy, you will experience tragedy, but before your destination of which you are faced with an emotion of finality, you will certainly experience hope. Indeed, the World Cup is a microcosm of life itself.
There are ample examples of both in recent tournaments, perhaps too many to mention. But if you’re in the German camp as either a player, coach, or supporter, the joy and elation felt when Mario Götze chested down André Schürrle’s cross and majestically slotted past Argentina’s Sergio Romero at the Maracanã is a feeling you are surely hoping – and expecting – to replicate this summer.
Brazil may, at least for now, sit alone atop the table in terms of tournament wins, but no other nation can rival Germany’s consistency. Die Mannschaft boast the most top four, top three, and top two finishes in World Cup history, to go along with the four stars above their crest. Their recent record at international tournaments, if you include the EURO, has seen them finish third at minimum in the last six competitions. They are a true world powerhouse.
Expectations are as high as ever, and rightfully so, but the task for Joachim Löw and his cadre of exceptional talents at becoming the first repeat champion since 1962 is hardly a foregone conclusion.
Though Group F is not as straight forward as some may think, it would still constitute a shock if Germany did not win it outright after the group stage is concluded. A likely date with Switzerland or Serbia would greet them in the round of 16, again, giving them a favorable match up.
Things would get tricky in the quarterfinals however, with the prospect of – likely – playing one of Colombia, England, or Belgium, baring massive upsets in either Group G or Group H, while an even bigger test awaits in the semi-finals in the form of (again likely) Spain or Argentina.
Would falling before the final hurdle be sufficient in the eyes of the nation? Likely not, though an appearance in the semi-finals is surely seen as the absolute bare acceptable minimum for the campaign.
Predictions and possible matchups aside, Germany is arguably the tournament favorite, along with Brazil, Spain, France, and potentially Argentina. The ultimate – and achievable – goal is a fifth World Cup parade in Berlin later this summer. How can they achieve the requisite result? Here are three keys to German success in Russia.
Faith in The Old and The New
Joachim Löw is a man who champions the team approach, putting collective cohesion above all things. The shocking yet almost sensible exclusion of Premier League Young Player of the Year Leroy Sané from the final 23-man squad is a prime example of that very belief. Despite registering more combined goals and assists than every other wide player in camp (10 goals, 15 assists), Löw took both the familiar route in Julian Draxler, and the more flexible options in Marco Reus and Julian Brandt. Needless to say, the Germany headmaster is spoiled for choice. Though many had tipped the Manchester City winger to potentially start against Mexico at the Luzhniki Stadium on June 17th, it’s hard to argue against the players he has at his disposal.
Draxler, though a journeyman who’s failed to consistently impress at club level, has become a key figure in the Germany set up. As for Thomas Müller, there are very few in the squad who exhibit a larger level of importance. But that does not mean that Reus and Brandt will be left to rot on the bench in Russia; quite the contrary.
When fit, Reus is far and away the best left-sided player Germany have, even more so than Sané. If not for his woeful pre-tournament injury record, he will likely have played a big role in both 2014 and 2016. Many are tipping him to oust Draxler from the left-side birth in attack despite the contributions of the Schalke youth graduate.
Image Credits: Irish Mirror
As for Brandt, his star may not shine as bright as it does when he dons the red and black of Bayer Leverkusen, but he is a valuable asset to have in any squad. Capable of featuring on either flank, or through the middle in a central attacking role, the Bremen-native offers a tactical flexibility which is so often useful during tournament play; not to mention a solid defensive work ethic that is sought after by Löw.
This same conglomeration of reliable national team veterans and younger players of promise can be found in midfield, center forward and at the back as well. Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng represent one the iconic national team center back pairs over the last half-decade, but the emergence of youngster Niklas Süle in his first-season at Bayern Munich could present somewhat of a selection dilemma. A stalwart at Hoffenheim before moving to the Bavarian giants, it was thought that he would be a long-term option to build around at the Allianz Arena, but Süle quickly became a key defensive figure; only fellow German international Joshua Kimmich made more appearances in the Bayern defense than him over the course of the season.
In midfield, it’s hard to look past the duo of Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira. Ilkay Gündoğan represents the logical choice of many to slot in for Khedira if the Juventus midfielder is not to maintain his first-choice status, but Leon Goretzka represents another newer face in the team that could be hard to overlook at some stage. Predominately a central midfielder, Bayern’s new free signing this summer has also shown a high degree of proficiency deeper in midfield while also being capable of slotting in on the right side in a flat four. His six goals in fifteen international appearances represents a very credible goal return from midfield, level with Draxler and one behind Khedira, both of whom have made at least three times the appearances.
As for the center forward debate, the toss-up between veteran Mario Gómez and wunderkind Timo Werner raises another interesting dilemma. Gómez has come up time and again for Löw in key situations and was a major factor behind their run to the semi-finals at Euro 2016 when Germany’s attack was stuttering out of the blocks in a false-nine deployment. His ability to lead the line and provide a focal point for his teammates to build around became instrumental, and if not for an untimely injury, many think his contributions would have helped Germany get past France rather than succumb to defeat.
Image Credits: The Mirror
Despite the sure hand of Gómez, there is a large argument supporting putting faith in Werner, one of the brightest young forwards in the world. His pace, trickery, movement off the ball, and eye for goal caused his stock to sore at club level after he moved from hometown club VfB Stuttgart for RasenBallsport Leipzig two seasons ago. He was a major reason why RBL got a taste of Champions League football after a dream debut season in the Bundesliga. His goal scoring numbers at club level didn’t reach the levels of the previous season but the threat he possesses is great, and his goal record (7 in 13 appearances) is the best ratio of anyone in the squad despite its small sample size.
In his defense Löw has shown an ability to make changes when they’re required, be it tactical or in terms of personnel. What must remain a constant this summer, is that faith must be placed in the right options rather than the familiar ones. Will Reus be a better option to start than Draxler? Should Süle’s form at club level and growing partnership with Hummels trump Boateng’s experience? Is Werner’s pace more valuable off the bench or will his ability to cause chaos outweigh Gómez’s focality? There’s no telling yet which avenues will be explored come the seventeenth, but what is important is that both the old and the new are not only relied on, but genuinely trusted.
Tactical Flexibility When Necessary
Germany have a real chance to straddle tactical lines this summer in a way that most teams in the tournament would not be able to. Where Spain, France, Brazil, Belgium, and Argentina all will rely on a (more or less) well established identity on the pitch, the defending champions have a squad capable of operating in different set-ups and approaches without a massive dip in player quality, efficiency, or overall effectiveness.
The unquestionable tactical mainstay for Löw is his preferred 4-2-3-1 deployment where Germany look to control proceedings through the course of ninety minutes. In such a deployment, heavily reliance is placed on two key central figures; Mesut Özil and Toni Kroos. Currently at the peak of their powers in terms of their development, the Arsenal and Real Madrid creative fulcrums are the heartbeat of Germany’s attack. With Gómez through the center forward channel, the vast majority of possession and chance creation runs through and around them.
But for all their dominance, creative aptitude, and ability to control, Germany can be checked by opposition sides that can defend and counter with pace, or better yet, beaten at their own game. It’s with this knowledge in mind that Jogi Löw must be open to the idea of switching his approach in relation to the particular opposition on the day; if not from the outset, over the course of the match if things just aren’t ticking at optimal levels.
A willingness to switch the page on the schematic sheet has been exhibited before. During Euro 2016, the initial preference for using Mario Götze as a false nine had slowed Germany’s attack to a veritable crawl. The reintroduction of an attacking focal point of a traditional center forward did wonders for their attacking effectiveness and put them back on track in the final third.
This summer, it’s equally if not more important to be open to a change of ideas. Given the quality in depth Germany does have, with many of it’s players capable of operating in a 4-3-3 based around the counter, or a 3-4-3/3-5-2 hybrid approach, there are (on paper at least) viable secondary options to consider.
Joshua Kimmich and the Space Interpreter
Its difficult to pinpoint one player above all others in the German ranks that is heads above the rest in terms of importance. When you’re blessed with arguably the best keeper of his generation, an elite spine from back to front, and the most creative mind in Europe over the last near decade, you’re in pretty good shape.
Despite the clear and undeniable importance of Germany’s elite spine, this summers most crucial area of the team doesn’t involve the center. Joshua Kimmich and Thomas Müller make up a right-sided duo that can stake a claim for being the most potent in world football.
The Bayern Munich duo began to forge their partnership on the pitch under former manager Pep Guardiola during the 2015/16 season. The Stuttgart youth graduate spent two years with RB Leipzig before moving to Bayern in 2015, where he would immediately break into the first-team under the Catalan. Under Pep’s care Kimmich’s progression was such that he was included in the Euro 2016 squad, and it was his influential breakout performances at right-back in that tournament that saw many begin to label him the true heir to Philipp Lahm.
Technically sound on the ball, hyper intelligent when reading play in front of him, and capable of delivering wonderful service from the right channel, over the past two seasons the native of Rottweil has staked a claim as the best right-back in Europe.
His penchant for going forward and being highly involved in the attack has helped forge an incredible partnership with Thomas Müller. The self-proclaimed “Raumdeuter” or “Space Interpreter”, Müller is arguably the most intelligent attacking player in world football. His understanding of movement off the ball and his ability to read the spaces in front of him offset his slender frame from a young age. Though he’s still on the smaller end of the frame spectrum, his consistency and overall contributions cannot be understated.
Going into Russia 2018, Müller’s ten World Cup goals to date have him sitting level for eighth on the all-time list, and within touching distance of surpassing the likes of Jürgen Klinsmann (11), Pelé (12), and Just Fontaine (13). Another five-goal haul in the tournament would see him climb level with Ronaldo on fifteen goals; second-most in history, one behind former Germany World Cup legend Miroslav Klose. But it’s not just Müller’s potential record that makes him as important as he is, it’s his movement in the final third that not only will help Germany unlock opponents but will help unleash Kimmich.
During this past season the Bayern pair combined for an astonishing 21 goals and 35 assists through all competitions, which saw Müller finish in the top three of Europe’s big five leagues in assists, while Kimmich was one of the leading full-backs in Europe.
Questions may be asked in other areas of the pitch for Germany despite the quality in the squad in terms of selection dilemmas. Now that Mesut Özil has been left as a potential question mark this summer through his injury struggles, Müller and Kimmich could become that much more important. Such is their combined capabilities to create chances for others, that it could very well mean that their contributions this summer may make or break Germany’s push for the finals.
Image credits: Hindustan Times
There have only been two nations to achieve back-to-back World cup wins; Italy (1934, 1938), and Brazil (1958, 1962). Others have come close, but as football has grown exponentially over the last five and a half decades, the talent level has risen and truly reached every corner of the globe. With so many potential stumbling blocks along the way, any one, no matter how strong a team they field, can lose on any given day.
Though this field is lacking the likes of the Netherlands, Italy, and Chile, those that will take part in the various stadia across the largest country on earth are there by merit. The task for Germany is an immense one; nearly impossible. But if anyone can achieve what has so rarely been done, it is the World’s most successful footballing nation.