Germany qualified for Euro 2012 with a 100% record in their qualifying group, finishing 13 points ahead of 2nd placed Turkey. They are many people’s favorites to win the tournament with the likes of Gomez, Özil, Schweinsteiger and Lahm in their ranks and are expected to be there or thereabouts in Kiev for the final. They faced no real challenges in their qualifying group, however, and there were a few close calls. This relatively young squad with new tactics and formation still has to face élite opposition and the pressures of a big tournament, with a few question marks over their heads.
Germany were defeated in the final of Euro 2008 by the Spain side that went on to dominate the World Cup in 2010. They were missing Bernd Schneider and Torsten Frings along with Michael Ballack were struggling for fitness, 3 key players. In South Africa, Germany lit up the tournament with notable wins including the 4-1 and 4-0 annihilation of England and Argentina. Players such as Özil, Müller and Khedira attracted global attention, with Müller winning the golden boot. Their exit to Spain was viewed as a disaster, with the young pretenders failing to continue their performances against the more established Spain. The suspension of Thomas Müller was a massive factor in their poor performance. This young spine, mixed with the likes of the experienced Lahm, Mertesacker, Schweinsteiger, Podolski and Klose comprised the only exciting challenge to Spain’s domination. With added experience, excellent strength in depth and Özil reaching his peak as an attacking midfielder, it’s no wonder the German nation are expecting to win Euro 2012.
Interestingly, there has been a lot of background controversy to Germany’s participation in Ukraine and Poland. Many European leaders have decided to boycott attending games in Ukraine over he jailing of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko. Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, led these calls and was one of the first to denounce the climate of racism that has been highlighted around the tournament. Captain Philipp Lahm even weighed in and called out the Ukrainian government about its human rights abuses. Merkel had threatened quietly that Germany would not take part in the tournament, but to deny this golden generation their chance would have been an artistic crime.
Germany rolled through their qualification group with ease. 10 wins from 10 shows a team in intimidating form while their closest challenge came against the superstar-filled Belgium and surprise-package Turkey. It took a commanding performance from Mario Gomez to pull the Germans out of a hole against Austria, which he did with a wonderful brace. This consistency is astonishing for such a young side and shows their clinical nature. Usually you get the tired old stereotypes of efficiency and cold or calculating rolled out when talking about the German national team. Watching this side, however, their efficiency on the ball, making its way from defense to attack in a few crisp passes, certainly embody those attributes. Low stated after qualification was secured that he desired a perfect record and the players mimicked that, not switching off for a minute, scoring a relentless 34 goals. The added element of flair and world-class talent from the likes of Özil has made them a joy to watch and they will hopefully carry this form into their very tough group.
Strengths and Key Players
One certain strength in this German side is their mystifying strength in-depth. Two of the world’s most exciting footballing talents, Mario Götze and Marco Reus, could potentially have no more than a bit-part role (although Low is an admirer of Reus and has even revealed he has played him as a centre-forward in training). Toni Kroos, one of Bayern’s key players, will never remove Özil from the attacking midfield position so may have to settle for challenging Khedira in partnering Schweinsteiger. At the back is probably where the strength in-depth ends. With 4 excellent centre-backs to choose from this shouldn’t be the case, but with Hummels unable to transfer his club form to country and Mertesacker, the most experienced one, struggling for fitness, this could be a potential weak-spot. It’s also common knowledge that whatever full-back position Lahm occupies, the other side will be weaker and teams may focus their attacks towards this.
Germany’s ability going forward is enviable. In the deeper midfield positions, Bastian Schweinsteiger is a key player as a box-to-box midfielder, and will provide the platform for Özil to work his magic. Invaluable both in attack and defence, his ability to keep possession will counter-act the directness of Podolski and Muller on the flanks and make sure Germany aren’t needlessly giving away the ball. His experience, with 90 caps to his name, makes him one of the first names on the teamsheet and with 23 goals I would expect him to help out in the attacking department. Ahead of him, Mesut Özil is the hub of all the flair and creativity in this side. Unstoppable during the qualifying campaign, bagging 5 goals and 7 assists, Özil’s vision, smart passing and ghost-like movement are a match for the creative élite of world football. If he carries his La Liga form he should be one of the players of the tournament, he’s one of my favorites to watch mainly for his movement off the ball and in the channels.
Özil isn’t bereft of targets for his pin-point supply either. With Podolski and Müller acting as inside-forwards from the flanks, expect a lot of goals from these areas. Podolski has 43 goals in 97 caps and the Arsenal-bound striker will be looking to add to his tally after a personally good season despite his club’s relegation.The success of these two could hinge on the toughest dilemma that Low faces; who starts up front – Mario Gomez or Miroslav Klose?
Klose vs Gomez
Going on club-form this one is a no-brainer. Gomez has been a phenomenon in the Bundesliga, bagging 26 goals in 33 appearances. With only 4 assists, however, and 1 key pass per game all season, his link-up play leaves much to be desired. As we seen in the Champion’s League final, he is also yet to adapt to the big stage and the pressure that comes with it. Klose certainly doesn’t struggle with this problem. 63 goals in 116 international appearances, second to only the great Ronaldo in World Cup goals, Klose knows how to turn on the style for Germany. He has had a solid season for Lazio as well, scoring 12 goals in 27 appearances. For the national team, his link-up play has been key to their blistering counter-attacks down the years and his understanding with Podolski seems telepathic at times. Managing 9 goals in qualifying, the team as a whole often performs better when Klose is in the side. His intelligence, movement, technique and link-up play are all superior to Gomez and I feel he should get the nod. Recently, along with Thomas Müller and Mesut Özil, Klose showed he is capable of developing an understanding with the young crop as the three entered a wavelength of their own and tore Holland apart in a 3-0 victory. He has been injured for the previous 2 months though and could struggle to keep up with the number of games.
Rotation may well be the best policy for Low. Germany have looked at their best with Klose playing, but Gomez has been capable of dragging the team himself as a he proved in qualifying with 8 goals in his last 10 appearances. As dilemmas go, it’s certainly not a bad one to have and using Gomez from the bench if they are struggling would be a great weapon throughout the tournament. Both guarantee goals and Low has insisted there is no pecking order, expect whichever one plays more to be challenging for the Golden Boot.
Marco Reus, was one of the best player in the Bundesliga last season and scored his first international goal against Switzerland. He could be the break-out player of the tournament if given his chance. Small and technical with a lethal finish and a keen eye for goal, Reus is extremely direct and has all the skill and intelligence needed to challenge the line of 3 behind Klose or Gomez. Reus finished the season with Mönchengladbach with 18 goals and 9 assists and is on his way to Dortmund to join up with the other German wunderkind and one of his best friends, Mario Götze. A 2-time Bundesliga champion and he just turned 20, Götze has broken into the national team at a tough time. One of the most exciting prospects in football, he will be unlikely to completely depose Müller, Podolski or Özil who all bring their own attributes to Germany’s tactics. Mario may have to wait until 2014 in Brazil before lighting up the international stage.
Interestingly, the Klose or Gomez debate could also have a factor on the left flank. Podolski is at his best when Klose plays and has looked lost playing with Gomez, unable to link up with a pure goal-hungry striker. André Schürrle has scored 7 goals in 14 games for Germany and looked a real threat against Israel in the final warm-up game, much more so than Podolski. If given the game time, expect the young Leverkusen winger to make his mark on the tournament and raise his stock very quickly.
Formation and Tactics
Germany have learnt their lesson from South Africa and have begun pressing themselves, not sitting deep and waiting to counter, they look to unbalance the opponent and counter that way, much like Barcelona. The central elements are the same: youthful enthusiasm combined with tactical intelligence, a 4-2-3-1 formation in which the players push far up field and play the pressing game with rest coming when they are in possession before they begin. They are now comfortable in possession as well, but unlike Spain who can become stagnant with their overloaded midfield as they did in South Africa, Germany move the ball quickly between each other. Using one or two touches and brimming with fluidity and invention, Germany can now entertain with the best, Spain boss Vicente Del Bosque described them as the “best football-playing German team I’ve ever seen”. In six years as Bundestrainer, “Jogi”, as he is known, has been responsible for a style revolution that is miles away from the old recipe based on industry, banks of four and winning ugly.
Traditionally, Löw has used an aggressive variant of the 4-2-3-1 formation. When they have the ball, the aim is to complete an attacking sequence from front to back in as little time as possible. He has also deployed a 3-4-2-1 against Ukraine last year, which saw Özil and Götze line up side by side in a mouth-watering midfield. The 4-2-3-1 will prevail however, with the trio of Schweinsteiger, Khedira and Özil the key unit in the side.
Without the ball, every player defends, with only Ozil and Klose remaining higher up the pitch. The two wingers, Lukas Podolski and Thomas Müller, drop deep to double up on their opposite numbers and prevent overlapping runs. Then, when the ball is won back, they sprint ahead on the counter-attack in a unique combination of skill and athleticism. Their key weakness lies in defense though. The new pressing element requires a high-line which has left the back-four vulnerable to balls over the top. While once the kings of counter-attack, they have proved vulnerable themselves and this is something that we could see the likes of Portugal with Nani and Ronaldo exploiting.
For all the world-class talent in the Germany squad, few have strayed outside the Bundesliga, a reflection of its swiftly improving reputation. Only 5 players have moved elsewhere and just 2 of those to the Premier League, Mertesacker and Podolski to Arsenal. Mertesacker had a solid season for the Gunners until his terrible injury put an end to his season in February. Normally he would be one of the first names on the teamsheet, but having only regained his fitness his position may be under threat. He has also struggled to adapt to Germany’s pressing and defensive high-line, but Hummels inability to perform for country could well see him continue to partner Badstuber.
Whereas previous German sides crumbled if their meticulously laid out Plan A failed, this side which has struck a balance between super-star creativity and industrious teamwork, are adaptable to whatever situation may arise. Getting through the group will be the first challenge, but their only real challenge should come from Holland who are a dangerous team, at full strength, and are bitter rivals of their neighbours.
There is another issue that cannot be ignored: no player in the German squad has won a World Cup, European Championship or Champions League. There is a huge mental barrier for the squad to overcome, and for many, time is running out. Klose is likely playing in his last tournament, while Lahm and Schweinsteiger are in their peak years. The longer it takes the bigger a milestone the lack of a trophy will become. If they can’t win with the team they have now, we may be looking at another tragedy akin to the Holland side of 1974.
This German side has reaped the benefits of inward reflection after national failure. Whereas England fail repeatedly and point the finger looking for someone to sack, Germany realised their systemic flaws and pumped millions into developing youth facilities and reaped the benefits of relaxed immigration laws. Low has become one of the most respected national team managers in the world and has constructed a wonderful team with a dynamic set of tactics. Now all this generation of stars needs is the trophy and Kiev should be their first aim.
23 Man Squad
Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich)
Tim Wiese (Werder Bremen)
Ron-Robert Zieler (Hannover 96)
Holger Badstuber (Bayern Munich)
Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich)
Benedikt Höwedes (FC Schalke 04)
Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund)
Marcel Schmelzer (Borussia Dortmund)
Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich)
Per Mertesacker (Arsenal)
Lars Bender (Bayer Leverkusen)
Toni Kroos (Bayern Munich)
Thomas Müller (Bayern Munich)
Mesut Özil (Real Madrid)
Sami Khedira (Real Madrid)
Marco Reus (Borussia Mönchengladbach, soon to be Borussia Dortmund)
André Schürrle (Bayer Leverkusen)
Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich)
Mario Götze (Borussia Dortmund)
Ilkay Gündogan (Borussia Dortmund)
Lukas Podolski (Arsenal)
Mario Gomez(Bayern Munich)
Miroslav Klose (Lazio)
Marc-Andre Ter Stegen (Borussia Mönchengladbach)
Sven Bender (Borussia Dortmund)
Lewis Holtby (FC Schalke 04)
Julian Draxler (FC Schalke 04)
Manager: Jogi Low
Probable Starting XI v Portugal (9th June)
4-2-3-1: Neuer, Boateng, Badstuber, Mertesacker/Hummels, Lahm, Khedira, Schweinsteiger, Podolski, Ozil, Muller, Klose
June 9, Portugal (Lviv, 7.45pm)
June 13, Holland (Kharkiv, 7.45pm)
June 17, Denmark (Lviv, 7.45pm)
All stats courtesy of WhoScored