Everything about Germany exudes strength. There’s something brooding about their black and white kits. The eagle in their crest was borrowed from the Roman Empire, where it was as a sign of decadence and power. Even their nickname, Die Mannschaft (The Team), sounds intimidating. And going into the World Cup, Germany are expected to be one of the strongest sides involved, as they always are.
But are Germany really as strong as is being made out? Is it all an impression?
When Joachim Loew’s side arrived in South Africa for the 2010 tournament they did so with modest expectations. Of course, there’s always an underlying presumption of success when it comes to Germany, but their squad was unproven, consisting of either ageing stars or players barely known outside of the Bundesliga.
But 2010 was a breakthrough year for Germany and many of their young players. They demolished England and Argentina on their way to the semi-finals, where they narrowly lost to the eventual winners, Spain.
Their performance at Euro 2012 might ultimately have been disappointing, losing to Italy in the semi-finals, but it once again hinted at their major tournament potential.
Yet patience is running out in Germany. After two successive third place finishes, it’s time to deliver. And with Spain’s premiership supposedly on the wane this summer is the perfect opportunity to claim the title that’s been a decade in the making.
Or at least that was the idea. In truth Germany’s status as third favourites (6/1 with Paddy Power) for the World Cup flatters them. Everything points to another summer of disappointment for Die Mannschaft.
Germany were already struggling with injuries before Friday’s friendly clash against Armenia. They won 6-1 but paid a high price, as Marco Reus suffered a partial ligament tear in his left ankle. He will now likely miss the tournament.
No less than seven first team players are either ruled out or questionable through injury as Germany head to Brazil (Manuel Neuer, Sami Khedira, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Ilkay Gundoga, Mesut Ozil, Marco Reus and Philipp Lahm).
Even with a fully fit side there would have been questions over Germany’s true strength. Sure, they have a number of world-class players but unfortunately for Loew they all seem to be in the same position. Or at least they were before they got injured.
They may have an abundance of attacking third playmakers and midfield pacesetters, but Germany have just one striker in their entire 23-man squad. And that striker, Miroslav Klose, is 35 years old. Germany have relied on him for goals at the last four World Cups, going all the way back to when Gabriel Batistuta and Ronaldo (the original one) were among his peers.
If Reus is indeed ruled out of the tournament, with Ozil also short of match fitness having only just recovered from a hamstring injury, where are Germany’s goals going to come from? Can they still depend on Klose, a player who scored his first international goal over 13 years ago?
There are questions over almost every position. Even in midfield, ordinarily their strongest area, it looks like Khedira – who has played just a handful of games in the last six months – could start alongside Schweinsteiger – who is struggling with injury.
And at the back, Per Mertesacker and Jerome Boateng are both susceptible to a spot of the ‘Titus Brambles’ at the most inopportune of moments. There’s even a chance Kevin Grosskreutz, a winger by trade, might start at right-back, such are Germany’s injury problems. So yes, everything is intimidating about Germany, if you discount their starting lineup.
Since the last World Cup, Germany has taken on a public image as something of a footballing utopia. The Bundesliga model has been eulogized to the point of obsession since two German clubs made the Wembley final of the Champions League last year.
Transfers are now measured in how many season tickets you could get at Bayern Munich for the same money (for example, you could get 480,769 season tickets at the Allianz Arena for the price of David Luiz). The fascination with Germany football, and the culture that it comes with, has never been sharper.
That fixation extends into international football, where Germany are seen as the most dominant of forces. But this reputation only has its full impact in England (perhaps natural given how Germany keep knocking them out). Germany have an entirely different image elsewhere in the footballing world.
It’s 18 years since Germany last lifted silverware, and 24 years since they last won the World Cup. Their major tournament record follows a familiar pattern. They coast through qualification, often going entire campaigns without suffering defeat, before comfortably topping their group when the finals kick off.
But look at the teams that have knocked them out in the last five World Cups: Bulgaria, Croatia, Brazil, Italy and Spain. In every instance inflated expectations have been burst by the first decent side they come up against. Is it possible that they have taken on Spain’s mantle as bottle merchants?
Germany’s reputation goes before them. Look at them a little closer and you’ll see there’s nothing to fear. Besides a penalty shootout, of course.
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