It took world powerhouse Brazil 24 years between 1970 and 1994 to win its then fourth World Cup. It took Italy the same 24 years to claim its fourth World Cup, sealing the trophy in 2006.
Of course it’s just coincidence that the third recognized world power in football, Joachim Loew’s Germany, could win its fourth World Cup in Brazil this summer – exactly 24 years after Andreas Brehme’s penalty ruined Diego Maradona’s dream of a second-straight world title in Rome.
For Loew’s sake, coincidence needs to become reality. After winning the majority of the accolades as ‘the man behind the man’ in 2006, Loew has failed to justify the acclaim as Die Mannschaft’s unexpected trophy drought continues since 1996. Too harsh? Not with the talent that he’s had at his disposal since replacing Juergen Klinsmann after finishing third as host nation.
To be fair, Germany has stormed through all major tournament qualifications and group stages in those tournaments under the soft-spoken yet brooding Loew, but the expectations are immense to once again hoist the silverware on the final day. He failed to do so in 2008 against Spain in the Euro final, then repeated the result in the World Cup semifinal in South Africa two years later.
Perhaps it was the pressure in 2012 that finally got to Loew. The Germans took on bogey team Italy in the semifinal, and despite a flawless run to arrive there, Loew adjusted his tactics to the azzurri, instead of the other way around. He panicked. It would not be fair to say that Italy and brace scorer Mario Balotelli weren’t deserved winners on the day, but Loew certainly made their job easier.
In essence, it all comes down to Brazil now for Loew to finally get it right. And while the prospects a year ago looked downright rosy, fate has dealt the Germans a somewhat cruel blow. The number of injury issues plaguing the squad is staggering. Dortmund superstar Marco Reus went down with ligament damage in his ankle just days ago. Ilkay Gundogan, Holger Badstuber, and Lars Bender have all been ruled out due to long-term injuries, while key players like Manuel Neuer, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira are chasing fitness after injury issues of their own.
But if any team can handle some major personnel losses without losing boatloads of quality, it’s Germany. The team’s strength in depth is incredible. When Reus went down it was an absolute hammer blow to Germany’s hopes. But the team not only has ready-made replacements in Lukas Podolski and Andre Schuerrle, it also boasts versatile central and wing players such as Thomas Mueller, Mario Goetze and Julian Draxler who can fill the void – perhaps not as spectacularly, but certainly just as effectively.
A big issue for Loew will be to decide where to best position the world’s top right back in Philipp Lahm, who also happens to be a world class central midfielder when called upon, which Pep Guardiola did with regularity at Bayern Munich. But Loew must also not forget the lessons that Bayern were taught by Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinals – namely not allowing Lahm to dominate and dictate from his best position. It cost Bayern dearly in the first leg, and it’s a mistake Loew cannot afford to make with either makeshift midfielder Kevin Grosskreutz or center back preferred Jerome Boateng patrolling the right side.
This becomes especially vital when one considers that the very probable German left back in Brazil will be internationally inexperienced Erik Durm, with only one cap to his name and only 22 years of age on his passport. On the flip side, Durm was positively electric filling in for yet another slightly injured German star in Marcel Schmelzer, only in this case with Dortmund. He could also just as easily be this tournament’s Gebre Selassie.
At center back the Germans are loaded with experience, but also a few well-placed misgivings. The likely preferred duo of Per Mertesacker and Mats Hummels have an unusual habit of providing at least one ill-timed gaffe when the lights shine brightest, but Arsenal man Mertesacker just put his best Premier League campaign behind him and Hummels, despite the odds after his Dortmund side was also decimated by injuries from back to front, led his team to a runners-up finish in the Bundesliga and a last eight berth in the Champions League. Ably backing them up in case of injury or suspension will be the aforementioned Boateng, Benedikt Hoewedes or Freiburg surprise Matthias Ginter. Forget about Shkodran Mustafi – he won’t see a minute.
Tactically, Loew will hopefully stick with the swarming interchange up top in Germany’s 4-2-3-1 formation, as evidenced by the fact that he decided to bring only one striker in 36-year old Miroslav Klose. Wait? That guy is still around? Not only is he still around, but there’s no moment he shines brighter than at the World Cup, and he will be hungry to claim the title of best-ever goal scorer in World Cup history, currently tied with compatriot Gerd Mueller at 14, and just one behind Ronaldo. No, not that one. That one.
But should Klose prove ineffective or wilt in the hot and heavy Brazilian mist, Loew can call upon a marauding horde of attacking midfielder and wingers who are not only adept at finishing, but also at interchanging with each other, making dynamic runs to free up the others, and pressing with pace to force opposing defenses into mistakes.
But it all boils down to Loew. Few expect the Germans to have any major problems topping the Group of Death – it’s all about second place for the U.S., Portugal and Ghana. The ambition might be there for the other group participants, but history, talent, experience and will all point to this German side going deep in the tournament once again.
Will they lift the trophy though at the Maracana on the final day? The road will likely have to go through hosts Brazil in the semifinals (should both win their groups as expected), but this Germany team should still fear no eleven on the planet. It will depend on momentum and some good fortune, but also a confident Loew not giving up faith in what worked to get him that far. In other words, sticking with the girl he brought to the dance.
Written by Robert Burns.
Follow him on Twitter: @RobertWFD