Germany have finally stuttered in a World Cup qualifier. The final scoreline read – Germany 4, Sweden 4. One can hardly ratiocinate this scoreline after the hour mark when the scoreline was 4-0 in favour of the home team. Germans were humbled at their own backyard. The gobsmacked coach, players and fans will have a hard time to get over the memories of this match.
Following a couple of insipid victories against Austria and The Faroe Islands, Germany thrashed Ireland away from home in what happened to be their thirteenth straight victory in qualifiers (Euro and WC combined). Chief architect of that victory, Marco Reus, expressed his views that there are even better things to come from Germany. And though Ibrahimovic maintained that three points are what they’d be playing for, former Sweden International Martin Dahlin did not expect Sweden to hold fort against the German blitzkrieg.
Sweden started off well, defending vehemently and pressurizing aggressively. Prior to the first goal, it appeared that Germany may not be able to break this resolute defence in open play. But Germany proved that Reus’s statement was not an empty rhetoric and what followed between 8th minute and 56th minute was simply splendiferous for the home team and for the football fraternity.
On eighth minute, blitz broke out like a breath that’s been held too long when Lahm picked up the ball outside the penalty-box and released Reus on the left side. Reus accurately anticipated Klose’s stealthy movement between the two Swede defenders and Klose made no mistake in bringing the gap between his and Gerd Müller’s tally to two goals. Three pin-pointed touches and Germany broke the deadlock.
Germans soon started stringing in a slew of passes that left the entire Swede defensive unit in awe. The second goal will easily go down in Germany’s history as their best team-goal ever. After keeping possession for a while, it was Reus again who played a one-two with Kroos just outside the box followed by another one-two with Müller inside the box. Then he chased down Müller’s wall pass and found Klose yet again who made no mistake from close range. Football was at its beautiful best.
Germany made it 3-0 before the break with another sinistral move from which Mertesacker scored his third for the national team, his first since 2005. There was no slatch in Germany’s sidereal passing and control even after the break. Once the initial Swedish defensive pressurization subsided, Germany made it 4-0 before the hour mark.
This was the time when probably everybody inside the stadium, including the Swedes, were hallucinating another half-a-dozen for Germany in back-to-back games. In all fairness, till this point Germany became dream weaver and played its best football in years’ time, near to perfection.
Unfortunately for the Germans, the Swedish team scripted a perfect non-sequitur from out of nowhere. How their counter-offensive started and exactly when they got their belief back will remain unknown forever. Since Germany’s fourth goal, they did not do anything different on the pitch. They pressurized Germany throughout the game but to no avail till that point. But what happened starting from 62nd minute till the next half hour (including the injury time) was a tribute to the unpredictability of this beautiful game.
It was Ibrahimovic who opened the scoring by clinically finishing a counter-attacking move with a top-notch header. Even he wouldn’t argue much over what was his first contribution in the match. Unfortunately for the Germans, it was not to be his last. He played his part in almost all the chances that came Sweden’s way from then on.
The Swedish sortie soon ran amok in the German midfield and defence and Germany surrendered their apparent insurmountable lead shamelessly with the visitors striking through Lustig, Elmander and Elm. To be honest, had Sweden been a tad lucky, they may have ended up winning the game as well. Two golden opportunities were lost in the dying moments.
At press conference, a bewildered Jaochim Löw could only say,
To be honest, 10 minutes after the game, I cannot explain this. The first 60 minutes were amazing, we played very, very well. Then we let ourselves lose rhythm, it’s unexplainable. There was no organisation, we had problems with high balls and it is hard to say what happened there.The problem probably started in our heads. You lead 4-0 and you think everything goes your way. We made so many mistakes in the last 30 minutes. We have to analyse that. For me it is very difficult to say why we made this many errors.
Yes, there were glaring mistakes in Germany’s defence. They started off well, pressurizing Elmander and Ibrahimovic to such effect that nobody could guess that they were on the pitch in the first half. The entire team tracked back to aid in defence and closed down all over the pitch. It was heartening to see the way Reus and Klose backtrack time and again to win the ball back. The Swede pressurization was evident even then but Germany nullified it till then with sleek double-passes. What went wrong then?
The team made a hell lot of mistakes in the later stages. Agreed that Badstuber can be held responsible for the first two goals, when he glaringly failed to judge the long balls aerially. Agreed that Neuer can be held responsible for conceding the second goal. There was no way a goalie could have conceded from that angle. But who should be blamed for this? Only the players and their lack of concentration?
First thing’s first. Manuel Neuer would not want to watch the replay of the second goal. He should thank Tobias Sana for not being able to put the ball in the empty net, when Neuer served it on a plate to the on-rushing attacker in the dying minutes. Even in the first half, he, unsure of his position, fumbled a Swede corner-kick and luckily for him it did not land in any opposition’s foot. While there is no demeaning Ibrahimovic’s powerful header for the first goal, Neuer should have at least made an effort to reach for the ball. Who will tell Neuer that he cannot take his place in the national side for granted?
When the Swedes were marauding the German midfield with aggressive pressing, lack of a no-nonsense tackler forced German midfield to go out of kilter. Where is the anchorman in midfield? OK, Khedira was injured. Where are the Benders? Schweinsteiger, Kroos and Özil are three of the craftiest play-makers in modern-day football, of which the first two can play from deep positions. But that does not mean that Basti and Toni are the best choices to break down opposition attacks. Basti still played a more subdued role, Kroos did not. Who will tell Kroos to concentrate on defending for a while to absorb the pressure?
It really was heart-rending to see the collective contribution in tracking back in the first half. The attackers voluntarily indulged in to committing challenges. Unfortunately, by the hour mark the likes of Reus, Müller, Özil and Klose ran out of steam because of all the intensive running to track back. So did the wing-backs Lahm and Boateng who constantly provided width and ran up and down more than any other players on the pitch.
It was visible that these eager runners were getting tired. Who will change the system to deploy a more reserve game-plan at this point of time? Why did Götze, an attacking player, replace Müller? Why not a defence-minded player? What was Reus, who had a stellar first half, doing on the pitch for so long when the exhausted winger did not take part even peripherally in anything significant in the second half? And why did Podolski, another attack-minded player, replace Reus with 4-3 on the scoreboard and German defence getting decimated left, right and centre?
During the Euro 2012 qualifiers Germany kept only four clean sheets in ten games. Neuer and Co. failed to keep clean sheet in both games against Azerbaijan! In the Euro Championships, Germany conceded goals in all five games they played. So far, with the exception of the Faroe Islands game, Germany have conceded in all the three games. Yes, Germany may have won most of these games and lost a very few in between, this only shows that Germany is vulnerable in defence. Who will get the heirloom of the Paul Jennings and the Beckenbauers in shape?
Heretofore, Germany did an Arsenal by giving away a four goal lead. The mansuetude with which they threw away the lead was shambolic. This stalemate is in effect a defeat. If Germany are to dream of glory in 2014, Joachim Löw and Hansi Flick must use their sapience to find answers to these questions. Sooner the better.