SCOTT PETERSON - Tuesday, December 10, 2013
What's the Wurst that could happen?
This is part one of three, examining America's Group G opponents.
Up first: Germany.
Nickname - Die Mannschaft
World Rank - 2nd
Record v USA 6-3-0; 2-0-0 in World Cup
Best finish - 3-time winners (1954, 1974, 1990)
Historically known for bruising midfielders, burly strikers, great goalkeeping and, most of all, winning, Germany was never known for playing "beautiful" soccer until its current crop of youngsters put on a head-turning display at South Africa 2010 that saw Die Mannschaft succumb to Spain in the semi-final.
It was the fruition of a plan implemented by current US boss Jürgen Klinsmann and current German skipper Joachim Löw. Klinsmann was installed at the helm after the Germans failed to progress from the group stage at Euro 2004. Klinsmann famously exited the Germany job after the World Cup in 2006 and logged a disappointing tenure at Bayern Munich.
Löw, however, stayed on board to lead the German ship and has not looked back. And for his part, Löw has rightly garnered plaudits beyond the Fatherland, becoming a regular in the rumor mill whenever there is a high-profile opening; see Munich, Bayern and Madrid, Real.
Germany favors an attacking 4-2-3-1 formation that allows its ball handlers to get into space, stretch the defense down the flanks and get numbers into attack.
And the skill in the German attack is top-draw.
Playmaking midfielder Mesut Özil was the discovery of South Africa 2010, securing a post-tournament switch to Real Madrid, while Thomas Müller was joint top-scorer and winner of the Golden Boot after tallying five goals and three assists in the tournament.
Özil is one of the most creative players in the world and has an impeccable feel for the game. Much like an elite NBA point guard, he has an impeccable knack of distributing the ball to his teammates where they can succeed. Furthermore, he can manipulate the most compact opposing defenses via positioning, dribbling and deft through balls to coerce backlines into opening up.
However, he does have a history of disappearing in big contests, which is the only remotely logical, performance-based reason for Madrid deciding to part ways with his services on the last day of the summer transfer period. That flaw aside, the 25 is clearly the stick that stirs the German Milchkaffee.
In his young, but already decorated career, Thomas Müller has been an exercise in clinical finishing.
Fleet of foot and strong-willed like German strikers of yore, Müller has underrated technical ability, links up well with teammates and is cool under pressure and in front of goal. The 24-year old was instrumental in leading Munich to Champions League glory last season, scoring 8 times including 3 in the two-leg tie versus Barcelona in the semis.
Rounding out the potent German attacking midfield are the likes of prized starlets Mario Götze, Dortmund's Marco Reus and Chelsea's André Schurrle. Even 29-year-old elder statesman and Arsenal striker Lukas Podolski still presents a threat as his killer left-foot makes him a continued viable asset.
There is only room for one striker in Löw's 11, and since 2006 his name has been Miroslav Klose. He's now 35 and long-since entered the twilight of his career. But with the Lazio man currently dealing with injuries, Fiorentina's Mario Gomez is more than a serviceable striker in a pinch.
The German defense is anchored by Phillip Lahm, who is hands down the world's best right back. Behind the diminutive Lahm is the imposing figure of Manuel Neuer. Lahm's backline includes fellow Bayern teammates Jerome Boateng and Holger Badstuber (when healthy) and Dortmund's Mats Hummels.
Bayern‘s Bastian Schweinsteiger figures to orchestrate the German attack from deep should he recover from an ankle injury, which by all accounts he is close to doing. While Sami Khedira, the other German discovery at South Africa 2010 and current Galactico of Real Madrid, however, is in danger of missing out with a torn ACL.
Even if the duo cannot go, Bayern's Toni Kroos, Dortmund's Ilkay Gündogan (also currently injured) or Sven Bender provide Germany with plenty of quality.
Germany went undefeated in qualifying and only dropped points once: in a match versus Sweden that saw them blow a 4-0 lead in Berlin. The Germans also had a stellar goal difference of +16 and scored the most goals in European qualification with 36.
Tangible weaknesses are few and far between. Whichever full back spot Phillip Lahm does not occupy will have a drop off in relative quality, while Neuer has a reputation for making world-class saves and rec-league blunders.
But both of these areas are offset; Lahm's pendant will probably be Dortmund's Champions League finalist Marcel Schmelzer and Neuer has a stout enough surrounding cast to negate any gaffes he may make.
The biggest area of concern for Loew, however, lies in the intangibles.
For all the panache that Die Mannschaft has in its attacking ranks, Germany does not have any proven winners and, until they can win in crunch time, Germany will continue to resemble Spanish squads of years past: the Anna Kournikova of international soccer squads.
Furthermore, at the Euro 2012 semi-final contest versus Italy, Germany delivered an uninspired performance after publically speaking about a final versus Spain in the run-up to the Italy match. This tendency to underestimate and look past seemingly inferior opponents could be their undoing, and something the US could benefit from much in the way the 2002 squad did against Portugal.
Germany has not finished worse than seventh since a tenth-place finish in 1938. And Germany will get through, just like they have in every World Cup, with the exception of 1930 (withdrew) and 1950 (banned). This is a team poised for a serious run at the title. If they do anything less than win the group and make the semis, it will be a shock and an utter disappointment for Germany.