A defeat at the hands of Italy in the semi-final of the UEFA Euro 2012 ended Germany’s surge, trifle prematurely. The pre-tournament favourites started off their campaign with a bang, qualifying from the group of death hassle-free. For the first time in its history Germany won the entire group games, looked to be the only team to challenge the supremacy of the Spanish armada.
Germany went into the tournament at the back of some great results and good omen. They won all their games in the qualifier, for the first time ever, scoring 34 times in the process; only second to The Netherlands’ tally of 38 goals. They also won nine out of ten games played prior to the tournament, a feat the Germans achieved in each of their Championship winning campaigns in ’72, ’80 and ’96. When Germany won the opening game of this Euro, the possibility of becoming champions became even more ominous because in each of the last five occasions in which Germany won the opening game in Euro, they went on to reach the final.
UEFA Euro 2012
Unfortunately, the kaleidoscope of that beautiful German dream was shattered to smithereens in the semi-final. True, Germany had never before defeated Italy in a Championship in seven previous meetings. But history should not have squirmed in any psychological effect to this team as only three players, Lahm, Podolski and Klose, were the remnants from the team that had participated in the debacle of 2006 World Cup semi-final clash. But once again Germany had to bear with the resonance of the rondo.
The Post Mortem
Jogi Löw, who admiraled the German ship so near to the shore for the third time in a row, just could not pick the ideal morsel available in his smorgasbord to get past the Italian riddle. Too much was read between the lines of Andrea Pirlo’s existence in the middle of action, and Löw’s team selection went for a toss, for the first time in this tournament. To keep the Italian midfield maestro in check, Löw sacrificed Germany’s width in attack by fielding Kroos. Kroos and Ozil kept swapping positions but since none of them has the métier to play in a wide role, Germany failed to stretch Italy down the right flank.
Moreover, both Kroos and Schweinsteiger are quite isosceles in terms of what they proffer as central midfielders; much unlike Khedira’s physical and energetic presence in a deeper role. Germany needed someone in the middle, if at all, whose attributes matched Khedira more, without curtailing the width. On hindsight, it seems that playing Bender in place of Kroos, and alongside Khedira in a holding role may have yielded the requisite.
The decision to include Podolski in the wide role hurt Germany. Aware of the fact that Maggio was suspended and Abate injured, right-back was the position through which Germany could have maimed Italy. But thanks to Prince Poldi’s maladroit application in a wide midfielder’s role, Germany could not exploit the apparent Achilles heel of the Italian defence. Of course, Balzaretti as a makeshift fullback was enormous as well.
UEFA Euro 2012
And last but not the least, application of Löw’s defensive organization has been slipshod. In order to play free-flowing attacking football, the age-old staid, physically imposing and yet efficient German football was sacrificed. Ball possession was taken into consideration so much so that both the defenders are expected to play a ball-playing role.
The observations on Germany’s defence from the five games played – 1) Out of the two holding midfielders, Schweinsteiger has always been the one to become the conduit between attack and defence, the deep-lying playmaker. Unfortunately, to maintain Germany’s attacking facade, even Khedira has been seen moving forward, more often than required. 2) In case of both the holding midfielders go bonking, it is very important for the centre-halves to hold their ground, sit deep. Unfortunately, the centre-halves have developed the uncanny penchant for moving forward, irrespective of where their holding midfielders are. 3) Having a ball-playing defender is always good for a team which is in the lookout for an occasional deep-lying thrust. Hummels, being a libero, serves the purpose well. The only thing remains a mystery is to what makes his partner move forward, ever so often.
The goal scored by Samaras in the game against Greece and Balotelli’s second in the game against Italy had two things in common. The centre-halves where nowhere near their marker; both the holding midfielders were far up in the field. And that should never have been the case. To win Championships, defence is sine qua non!
One other thing that has gone against Germany during their prolific run till the semi-final is the fact that in each of their last 14 competitive games they scored first and held on to it to win the game. Against Italy, they went down by a goal for the first time in many-a-days. And as Kismet would have it, since it was a different situation than what they had been used to of late, they transformed from an organized and disciplined unit to a slovenly lot. They were only down by one goal. All they had to do was to gather the pieces and start doing what they were doing earlier. Instead, Germany sallied forth as if there’s only a couple of a minute left in the game, and committed hara-kiri. The rest was assured by the sui generis Super Mario and a sedulous Italian defence.
Death Of The Traditional Character
Germany have always been touted as the most difficult side to beat in world football. They were always in the game no matter what the score line reads, nerveless and with an attitude of a winner. Be it the time of Fritz Walter, Franz Beckenbauer, Lothar Matthäus or Oli Kahn – Germany had leaders who could motivate the side with character and drive the players with emotion, right till the end.
But the present German side seems devoid of any such characters or leaders. Defeat in the final of Euro 2008, defeat in the semi-final of World Cup 2010, defeat in the semi-final here in Poland-Ukraine, defeat in two Champions League finals – Germany has literally choked in final hurdle consistently in the past four years. Constant failure to deliver in crunch moment has created many doubters among the zealots that the leader/s of the current crop on the pitch is/are pretty wishy-washy.
Löw must react to this tocsin. The team may require someone or a group of seniors which will always be vocal throughout the match or during a crisis situation or in the dressing room, in a bid to turn things around. Former European footballer of the year, Germany’s last candidate to win the individual award and the technical director of DFB, Matthias Sammer put forth his view in reaction to rumours of Germany’s lack of character in recent defeats,
“above all in Germany we need to realise that a certain amount of discord is an important component. I’m not talking about egoism but using certain stimuli with the aim of helping the team. I don’t know what I’d be like today. In the past, discord was desired and encouraged by the coaches. I think it’s connected to the fact that we don’t win any decisive games.”
When asked about the character building process of the young members in the team, Sammer quipped,
“Today the guys often prefer to keep themselves busy with new technology and social networks than with the team. I miss people playing funny pranks on each other. I notice it because our teams are all so quiet. On the team bus they have no problem listening to loud music. But why aren’t they making a loud noise out on the pitch? The two go hand in hand. In certain situations in a match there’s not enough communication for my liking. That little bit of audacity, craziness and emotionality is missing. Being loud doesn’t mean you automatically win, but there are situations in which joyful emotionality is helpful. We need to think about that.”
Yes, they were the favourites to contest Spain in a bid to take the mantle of Europe. They were expected to get past the Italians for the first time in a competitive fixture. The result could hardly be smarmy to the fans. But there are reasons to be optimistic about the future.
Germany qualified from the group of death unscathed. The team has scored at least once in each of its last 20 internationals. Prior to the privation against Italy, Germany posted record number of consecutive victories in competitive fixture of fifteen games. Even though the team’s average age was only hovering around 25 (24 years and 11 months to be precise), they conjured up a total of 197 goal between them. Had they won against Italy, they would have celebrated their 500th victory in International fixtures.
With the kind of team Löw has at his disposal, Germany will remain favourites to qualify for the World Cup in Brazil. Considering the fact that they will qualify, stalwarts like Schweinsteiger and Lahm will be at the peak of their games, whereas young prodigies like Özil, Kroos, Götze, Reus, Schürrle, Gündoğan will mature with age. Competition will be tough at the world stage. But if these set of talented players can keep improving their performance graph, Germany can definitely reach the summit in 2014. Reparation of the defensive organization can change Germany from a pretender to a predator and that is not a pipe dream.
Nationalmannschaft – head up, heart open. To better days!
UEFA Euro 2012