Monday, June 14, 2010
Germany confound expectations
Isn't it funny? Based on what happened in the opening games of the tournament and then on Sunday night in Durban, it looks as if Germany - of all teams - is responsible for adding flair, joy, excitement and especially goals to a tournament that has so far been rather dull. Believe it or not, this is happening for the second World Cup in a row.
Taylor on Socceroos
Four years ago, I wrote this after Germany's first game: "I'm sure that most of the millions who watched the ... game on television wherever they live have not actually seen Germany play [before], so some of them may have been surprised - positively or negatively, I leave that up to you - that we are many things but certainly not dour, defensive, well-organised and ruthlessly efficient."
And I could write almost the same thing after Sunday's convincing win against Australia, perhaps excepting the "well-organised" bit, because the Socceroos exposed our problems at the back far less noticeably than Costa Rica did four years ago.
And once again the German performance seems to have come as a big surprise to the rest of the world. To illustrate this, allow me some name-dropping and tell you what happened on Sunday before and after the game.
Seven hours before Germany versus Australia kicked off, I received a phone call from a talk radio station in Dublin. They wanted to know about Germany's chances at the World Cup, considering the side lacked flair and technique and had to rely on being organised and physical.
Later, a few minutes after the final whistle had rung in Durban, I received a text message from a well-known English football writer. The message read: "I thought this was supposed to be a bad German team!"
Which makes you wonder what kind of coverage Germany gets in other countries and if people still, after all these years since Jurgen Klinsmann took over and overhauled the side, stubbornly rehash their stereotypes. I mean, my preview column was given the headline "Accepting the cliches", but that did not refer to the game as played on the pitch.
On the pitch, we have to make something happen and take the game to the opposition because we lack the organisation and the physical strength to play a defensive game. (Even Pim Verbeek repeated that nonsense about Germany being "physical" in his pre-match interview, a few hours before his players tried to hack lumps out of Bastian Schweinsteiger. The red card was harsh, though.)
What we do have on the pitch is flair, because most of our attacking players have excellent technique and vision and like to keep the ball on the ground, not to mention that even both holding midfielders are cultured and creative rather than destructive.
So this team was always supposed to be quite good. The question, as I said on Friday, was if it will be good enough for the lofty goals the coach and his players have set themselves. Based on Sunday's evidence, the answer seems to be: quite possibly.
Sorry for disappointing you in case you expected a resounding "yes" rather than a timid "quite possibly". But amidst all the euphoria that surrounds the team after Sunday's very fine showing we must not forget that it is still early days and that future opponents will certainly learn their lessons from the many, many mistakes the Socceroos made.
So let's start with what was not quite so good. On Friday, I said that "this team has to make something happen, precisely because it is not particularly effective or clinical". I didn't think, however, that we would manage to waste as many chances as we did. Of course it's a good thing all those opportunities were created in the first place, but we have to be at least a bit more effective and clinical against sterner opposition.
That leads to the second problem: Miroslav Klose. I guess Joachim Low will have to do some serious soul-searching during the next few days, despite the fact Klose found the target. Because he did so from what I think may have been the only half-decent cross of the night while missing four excellent chances - two of them sitters, actually - on the ground. Cacau, by marked contrast, then scored with only his second touch of the ball after coming on for Klose.
Which goes to show that Klose, even though he may have broken out of his personal slump, is not really suited to this team. Neither Lukas Podolski nor Thomas Muller are noted crossers of the ball, while Sami Khedira and Schweinsteiger play in positions where they have to keep the ball on the ground and Ozil prefers the delicate through-ball anyway. All of which cries for Cacau upfront.
However, there's Low's loyalty, as I said in the preview. And there's also our problem with set pieces. We've scored only two goals from corners or free kicks in the past 19 months, and with Michael Ballack sidelined we might as well forget about set pieces altogether if Low decides to bench Klose.
The final problem concerns the left side. During the first half, almost every dangerous German move came down the right flank and involved Lahm, the excellent Muller and Ozil, who tended to move over to this side as well, because he was looking for one-twos.
Podolski, meanwhile, was more or less alone on the left. He coped admirably, but Holger Badstuber will have to become a tad more adventurous, especially if and when future opponents shift their defence over to the other side to stop Lahm and Muller.
However, there were some encouraging signs after the break, as Germany's left wing slowly came to life. That gives me some hope we are more versatile than we should be, considering this side didn't have much time to gel and become organised.
The little time they did have seems to have been spent well, though. You could see it from the way Khedira and Schweinsteiger played together. In the first half, Khedira was the more offensive of the two, while Schweinsteiger covered for him. After the break and when Germany were a man up, Schweinsteiger could afford to move upfield more often. It wasn't exactly "Netzer and Beckenbauer at Wembley in 1972" stuff, but it was inspiring.
So, we can be rightfully proud of the return of Germany's Un- Germanness. To make it really far, though, it can't hurt to have at least one player who is a bit more Teutonic when it comes to putting the ball away. Even if he was born in Brazil.