Sunday, June 27, 2010
Germany low on budget, big on ideas
A few days ago, Germany's assistant coach Hans-Dieter Flick said the Australia game had proven that the side can play excellent combination football. The Serbia game, he added, had proven that the side has excellent morale and team-spirit. The Ghana game, he concluded, had proven that the side has excellent nerves and confidence.
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Against England, Germany displayed each of these qualities while their opponent lacked them all. Thus the eventual outcome and even the shocking scoreline are perfectly okay. Or, as Harry Redknapp put it: "Over the whole game, you'd have to say, they were much, much better than us, a way better team."
True and sporting words from the Tottenham manager. And yet, you also have to say it could have been very different. I'm probably part of a very small minority in my own country when I say that the 38th minute was crucial, but I have been clamouring for instant video replays for so long (see "Men and Machines, 2005") that I'm positively enraged at still having to live with such an appalling refereeing decision in an important World Cup game.
After the final whistle, Gunter Netzer - who was part of Germany's 1974 World Cup-winning squad, though he played just 21 minutes at the tournament - said that an equaliser would not have turned the game because Germany "would have picked themselves up, as they were just too good and England just too poor". It's beyond me how anyone can make such a claim, especially after Saturday's games showed how quickly and how unexpectedly matches can swing.
I, for one, am not sure our young players would have recovered so easily from conceding two goals in less than two minutes at a point in the game when they should have been up by three or even four. Not to mention that England might have finally broken out of that strange stupor which has held them captive ever since the World Cup began.
So I'm sitting here, seething at ossified functionaries when instead I should be celebrating some sixty minutes or so of amazing German football. And that's not right.
I can't even agree with those German fans who see the goal Frank Lampard was robbed of as late revenge for Wembley 1966. First, today's mistake was much more blatant than Tofik Bakhramov's. Second, the technical means weren't in place 44 years ago to avoid such blunders. Now they are. We just don't use them. Idiotic.
But enough of that. I should probably take a similar stance to former Scotland international-turned BBC pundit Alan Hansen, who said: "England were hammered. The bottom line is they are lucky it was only four." Because, like I said, it could have been four even before our backline dozed off during a set-piece, allowing Matthew Upson to pull one back for England.
That first half hour, during which only David James kept his team sort of in the game, was breathtaking. As usual, the German fans will say their team was so strong that they played England off the park, while English supporters will argue their team was so bad the opposition had an easy game. As usual, it was a bit of both.
Time and again, the Germans created space for themselves with very simple moves, often with Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil executing what in gridiron is known as running crossing routes: Muller cut inside, Ozil moved over to the right wing and England's defenders were drawn out of position easily. Far too easily. That shouldn't happen at this level.
On the other hand, Germany's creativity in midfield was very hard to contain, as there wasn't just Ozil setting people up but also Bastian Schweinsteiger and even Sami Khedira. When Khedira's back-heel after half an hour started a pair of one-twos, which led to Miroslav Klose being one-on-one with James, Netzer said: "That was Brazilian football." Then he corrected himself: "No, it wasn't. Because Brazil don't play like that anymore."
In short, the Germans were at times breathtakingly agile, inventive and nimble, the English at times breathtakingly lumbering, unimaginative and clumsy. And the combination of those factors made for two stunningly one-sided half-hours - the opening and the final thirty minutes of the game, when Germany also gave a masterclass in counter-attacking.
But in between there was also a period of sustained English pressure, during which the nerves and the confidence Flick has spoken of came handy. However, it was precisely this period that demonstrated the difference between the two sides, on this day and during this World Cup, as the pressure consisted of little more than distance shots from Lampard, crosses from Steven Gerrard and fruitless runs by Wayne Rooney.
Yes, there is more individual talent in the England side, but this cannot be a substitute for a well-balanced team effort, at least not during a long tournament. On Saturday, Borussia Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp said that England have world-class players but lack the creativity and inspiration to make this talent shine, whereas Germany have a plan, an idea of what the team as a whole should be doing, even though they may lack somebody exuding star quality.
If this means today's encounter came down to a clash between the classical Hollywood star system (famous faces are more important than the plot) and the New German cinema (low on budget, big on ideas), we've all seen which philosophy prevailed. "Germany were the better team technically and tactically", admitted Chris Waddle.
And yet, to return to what should have been the equaliser, who knows what would have been, could have been? Which is why national coach Joachim Low and most of his players refused to be carried away by euphoria after the game, instead expressing some annoyance at almost having let the game slip out of their hands by inexplicably losing concentration immediately after Lukas Podolski had scored the overdue second goal.
Which somehow makes this team even more endearing. If you had told me ten years ago there would come a World Cup when Germany pull off Brazilian moves, lament their lack of efficiency and deplore allowing an inferior but dogged and strong opponent to get back into the game ... well, I would've laughed in your face.
Believe it or not, just as I am typing this, Argentina have taken the lead against Mexico through the most blatant offside goal since Klose's header for Bayern against Fiorentina in last season's Champions League. Come on, people, this is silly.