Germany have become the first European team to win a World Cup on South American soil with many pundits claiming Joachim Löw’s side were the only competing ‘team’ in the actual sense of the word. In the wake of their historic victory, Jack Cahill analyses just why they might be righ
Felipe Scolari’s Brazil suffered their worst defeat since 1920 and their first competitive home defeat in 39 years as they crashed out of their own World Cup. Few would have predicted such a demolition and as Germany cruised to a staggering 7-1 semi-final victory, the world understandably watched on in disbelief.
However, there were signs that Brazil would struggle against Joachim Low’s Germany. Rather than focusing on a Brazil team who will be subjected to inevitable denigration, it is more prudent to talk about a Germany side who systematically picked Brazil apart without leaving second gear.
Germany demonstrated how a team playing as one can dismantle a defence with swift pass and move football, with cruelly effective results. As utterly shambolic as Brazil were, Germany can only play what is in front of them, or outplay them as the case so often is with Low’s side.
But why do they look like such a “well-oiled machine” as Rio Ferdinand remarked on BBC’s coverage? His choice of words is interesting as Germany are always referred to as clinically efficient and almost mechanically effective. This is a testament to the strength of their team game, each player is a vital cog keeping the German machine turning over.
This notion is evident when you see the German players rejecting solo glory to provide for a team-mate. Against Brazil they repeatedly squared the ball to increase the angles on goal and the likelihood of scoring. They aren’t concerned with ‘Brazilian football’, they want to score and they do it by playing with intelligence and practicality.
They have shown some defensive frailty and have been accused of lacking flair and ironically playing ‘anti-Brazilian’ football, a concept which has become amusingly abstract as ‘Brazilian football’ has been absent from the Brazil team for the better part of a decade.
Their collective strengths and weaknesses all derive from the same fact; Germany’s starting line-up consists of 6-7 Bayern Munich players. Low and his players may be unaware of the English idiom, ‘Familiarity breeds contempt’, but I’m sure they would scoff at it. Familiarity is exactly what has brought them this far and the proof that it breeds success was provided by their 1-0 win on Sunday.
Their aforementioned defensive struggles, most notably against Algeria and Ghana, came when familiarity was absent as they fielded a back four from four different clubs. The playing field was levelled and the difficulties of achieving a good national chemistry showed as it does for most national sides at some point. The benefits of playing alongside several club teammates cannot be understated.
One commentator joked that Germany could do with having Robben, a clear indication that it was effectively Bayern Munich playing without the flair of Robben and Ribery. The Ghana game was really the only time any serious criticism was levelled at Germany but it didn’t slow their advances.
Germany and Bayern share a conjoined spine of Neuer, Lahm, Schweinsteiger and Muller. They managed to carry their Bundesliga-winning club form into the World Cup and with Boateng, Kroos and Goetze they have managed to integrate a level of understanding and fluency often lacking in national teams.
Team over individual
It’s evident that Germany had a distinct advantage over the teams the encountered en route to the final. Many teams have been built around one star player whose face epitomised their country and its chances. Pictures began appearing on the internet highlighting this idea. Brazil have Neymar, Argentina have Messi, Portugal have Ronaldo, Germany have a team.
Individual idolisation has been proven naïve and idealistic in the wake of Germany’s success story. Low certainly has star names and faces capable of shouldering expectation but they never offered up a single player to the pressures of such a role nor the threat of being used as a potential scapegoat.
The notion of one player as the image of a team’s international campaign is no new concept, however perhaps it is one in transition. In Neymar’s absence Brazil floundered wildly and went down to a well prepared Germany. Similarly, Argentina’s over-reliance on Messi saw them devoid of alternatives when he was found lacking.
Their tunnel vision inspired more headlines indicating Germany’s unerring efficiency; “Messi frustrated by German industry”, “Argentina thwarted by industrious Germans”. The mechanical connotations are clear, Germany have not allowed a single name to come before the team.
When you compare David Luiz holding Neymar’s shirt aloft and Goetze doing likewise with the injured Marco Reus’, the contrast of mentality is clear. Luiz held up Neymar’s jersey before their match with Brazil, a respectful move but one which showed their desperation. Losing Neymar, a player whom had been allowed to become the individual and talismanic bearer of a nation’s hope, was a hammer blow. By losing one player, Brazil lost their team. Holding Neymar’s jersey before the game was a move as much out of fear of his absence than respect for it.
Where Brazil attempted to inspire hope and channel inspiration through the presentation of Neymar’s jersey, Germany showed their respect to the absent Reus when they had the job done and the cup won. Reus would have been instrumental to Germany’s World Cup and they would have been undoubtedly stronger with his inclusion. They accepted that the machine had been lost a crucial part and powered on with a replacement, Brazil on the other hand had accepted that the machine had lost a crucial part and didn’t have the courage to attempt repairs.
It’s no surprise that Germany eventually won the World Cup following the introduction of yet another Bayern Munich player. Mario Goetze brought the number of Bayern players on the field to a staggering seven and it was fitting that a Munich player would score the winning goal as 9 of Germany’s 18 goals Worl Cup goals came from Munich players, half their total tally.
Germany’s team is split by an ironic duality. The majority of their starting team are already a team. Joachim Low has done well to avoid conflicting styles and has utilised the familiarity of years of club training to Germany’s benefit. Instilling a team-oriented work ethic to an already largely familiar team and rejecting the idea of a star player has allowed Low’s team to humbly go about their business and win Germany a well-deserved fourth World Cup.
Jack Cahill, Pundit Arena.