Two teams facing very different futures
JOHANNESBURG -- Third-place matches at the World Cup usually provide lots of goals. Saturday's tilt between Germany and Uruguay in Port Elizabeth provided plenty of drama as well, with Die Mannschaft prevailing 3-2 in a match that revealed two teams facing very different futures.
Sami Khedira tallied the game winner in the 82nd minute, but like Uruguay has done all tournament long, the team fought to the last second. Alas for La Celeste, there would be no miracle comeback this time. Diego Forlan's stoppage time free kick struck the crossbar, after which referee Benito Archundia blew his whistle, allowing Germany to claim third place for the second tournament running.
It was a match that bore a closer resemblance to a track meet than a soccer game. Germany began the match controlling matters and deservedly went on top in the 18th minute. Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera could only parry Bastien Schweinsteiger's long-range blast directly in front of goal, allowing Thomas Muller to slot home the rebound.
With nothing to lose, Uruguay decided to start pressing farther up field. The tactic paid off with two well-taken goals. Diego Perez picked Schweinsteiger's pocket in the 28th minute, allowing Luis Suarez to set up Edinson Cavani for the equalizer. Six minutes into the second half, Forlan volleyed home Egidio Arevalo's fine cross after Germany couldn't play its way out of its half.
Germany's fighting spirit was just as evident as Uruguay's, however. Marcell Jansen headed home the equalizer in the 56th minute after Muslera failed to get a touch to Jerome Boateng's cross. Then Khedira nodded home the winner late, after Uruguay failed to deal with Mesut Ozil's corner.
Yet as dramatic and evenly played as this game was, and as well as each team performed in this World Cup, these two sides are headed in wildly different directions. Given the young attacking talent on display, Germany's future couldn't be brighter. It has to be considered one of the favorites for the 2014 title. Ozil, Khedira, Toni Kroos and Muller are all under the age of 24. Mainstays Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski are both 25.
As it stands, the only players at the end of their international careers are defender Arne Friedrich and forward Miroslav Klose. Very few national teams will have that kind of continuity going forward. The same is true off the field as well, with manager Joachim Low set to sign a new contract.
As for Uruguay, the outlook is vastly different. Granted, La Celeste still has a talented trio of young attacking players with Cavani, Suarez and young playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro all under the age of 24. Lodeiro, in particular, is a player to watch. If he continues to progress, he could provide the team with the kind of midfield creator that it lacked in this tournament.
But this tournament looks to be the swan song for other key members of Uruguay's team. The biggest loss is clearly Forlan, who will be 35 at the next World Cup, in Brazil. Captain Diego Lugano and midfield workhorse Diego Perez, both of whom had outstanding tournaments, will also be in their mid-30s when the next tournament rolls around. Even with central defender Diego Godin still likely to be in the mix, the spine of this team will have to be rebuilt. That will not be an easy task, regardless of whether coach Oscar Tabarez remains or not.
Given the team's soccer tradition, there's always the chance that Uruguay will find replacements. Germany has no such worries.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He is also the author of "Soccer's Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves and Fantastic Free-Kicks." He can be reached at email@example.com.