As we gear up for the World Cup 2014, the Prawn Sandwich Brigade will be looking at this year’s favorites to win it all in Brazil. These articles highlight the differences from four years ago, analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of each team. This is Part 4 in a 6-part series on the bookmakers’ favorites. Articles on Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Italy, and Belgium can be found here.
“Football is a relatively simple game. Twenty Two men chase a ball for ninety minutes and at the end of the day the Germans always win.” – Gary Lineker
This quote was funnier 20 years ago as Germany never used to have the flashiest stars, but appeared in more World Cup finals than any other nation. This year no one is overlooking them and many believe that Germany will finally put it all together and win their first major trophy since 1996.
Where they were in 2010
Joachim Loew made some interesting selection decisions in 2010 and he was criticized for not selecting a stronger team of players already at their peak. Instead, he went with a slightly younger team featuring Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos, Sami Khedira, and Manuel Neuer, and they did far better than anyone could have expected. All these players are household names now (thanks to this blog).
- Germany followed the 4-2-3-1 trend with a creative trio of Podolski, Muller, and Mesut Ozil behind Miroslav Klose who played as the lone striker and primary goal poacher.
- Most of their goals were scored on counter-attacks in 3v2 or 2v2 chances, although they had some luck with set pieces. Direct dribbling was the name of the game.
- Mertesacker and Friedrich weren’t the most mobile CBs, and benefited from playing small forwards who had no space to surge past them when Germany didn’t have the ball.
They made a big statement against England in a 4-1 win and an even bigger one when they knocked out Argentina 4-0 in the quarterfinals. Eventually Germany were beaten by
Paul the Octopus Spain in the semifinals after getting starved of the ball and being pressed intensely when they won it, so they never got their counter attacks going. They did secure 3rd place over Uruguay though, and Thomas Muller won the Golden Boot for his 5 goals and 3 assists.
2014 Differences and Improvements
Joachim Loew has done a lot of experimenting in friendlies to try and evolve the team further. It turns out that Germany has been developing attacking midfielders like they were cars or something. Loew’s biggest predicament is figuring out who plays and when, not a bad problem to have. While he favors a 4-2-3-1, he has dabbled a bit with a false 9 to try and accommodate as many attackers as possible. Here’s what we can expect from them this year.
- Mario Gotze, Julian Draxler, Mesut Ozil, Toni Kroos, Marco Reus, Andre Schurrle,and Thomas Muller are all vying for those attacking midfielder spots.
- Muller, Schurrle, and Volland are advanced attackers that could feature as the leading front man.
- In the holding roles, Schweinsteiger will presumably keep his spot and the other one is up for grabs with Gundogan, Sven Bender, Kroos (he can do both), Lars Bender, or Sami Khedira to take the other one. One of the holding midfielders will venture forward while the other one drops.
- Philip Lahm will probably play at right back though. Marcel Schmelzer would be a likely choice at LB but has been injured and can get beaten by tricky wingers.
- Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng was the partnership at Euro 2012 but it’s a shaky partnership. Hummels has been hurt, Boateng has been average. Mertesacker or Howedes could play but they aren’t as quick.
- Manuel Neuer is great insurance for the CBs though if they get beat for pace. He’s quick off his line and his size means he can win out in 1v1 situations more than other keepers.
These players all play at top clubs now, (mainly Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund) and would have a lot of chemistry and cohesion. However, they are being forced to have more possession and can leave space to be countered on. I’d expect that trend to continue, mainly because teams will try to defend with 8 or 9 players in the box against them to deny space.
World Cup Chances
Germany’s chances are very good if they can put everything together. Yes this is South America and no European team has ever won there, and they do have a tough group. But they should top Group G without a lot of difficulties. I’d expect a draw against Portugal and wins against the United States and Ghana. Hopefully the United States can join them as runners up but that’s another story.
I don’t think we’ll see any thrashings because teams will look to defend more and look for a set piece or a counter attack. Plus they don’t have many clinical striking options to fill that role. Miroslav Klose is their best pure finisher, but he’s 34 and won’t have a lot of space to counter attack in. Best case scenario, they upset Brazil in a potential semifinal and they beat Argentina/Spain (expected finalists). Worst case, they come unstuck against a solid defensive unit like Switzerland. My prediction is they’ll lose to Brazil in the semifinals and finish 4th to Spain.