If you’ve been regularly reading this blog you will recall that I confidently predicted a South American winner of this World Cup and more specifically that victory would take shape in the form of Argentina (see south-america). The events of the last twenty-four hours have dramatically re-shaped such initial bluster with the twin exoduses of the traditional giants of that continent, Brazil and Argentina; both spectacularly caving in during their quarter-finals but in differing circumstances. While Brazil panicked beyond logic and reason against Holland and went about single-handedly wrecking their chances of recovery with rash tackles and petulant tantrums, Argentina’s demise was devastatingly brought about by a team that clinically dismantled the attacking foundations with which Diego Maradona had so admiringly instilled into his players.
I have written extensively about the delicate balancing act that exists between the team ethic and the free expression of the individual (see individuals-united) and have asked the question on numerous occasions as to whether such a chimerical symbiosis is possible. In the Germany squad, over the course of three enlightening weeks, I believe we are seeing the closest thing possible to such a fantastical vision. To put it plainly, they are executing football with beautiful simplicity. And in that simplicity lies the foundation of their ongoing success. They have scored with such wild abandon and conceded so infrequently that the perennial accusations thrown at them, those of being functional and pragmatic, seem as ridiculous as maintaining the belief that the world is not round. It has become evident that the Germans and not the attractive, free-wheeling motions of the Spanish or Argentines, are forging the way for a revolution in how we should all approach the practice of the game at all levels. How can this have come about?
What the German players have thoroughly understood throughout this tournament is that football, when you boil it down to its very basics, is a very easy game to play. Pass, move, tackle, defend, attack, stay in position. Everyone has a job to do and when stuck to, individuals shine. Bastian Schweinsteiger has developed into an orchestrating midfield general par excellence, Miroslav Klose edges closer to surpassing Ronaldo’s all-time goal-scoring record at World Cup Finals, Lukas Podolski contributes both experience and lethal marksmanship whilst Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil are the young players of the tournament. Each and every one of them deserves to make the Team of the Tournament shortlists which will start to appear in the next week or so. But with each game, we are seeing that the entire team is capable of making it into such fantasy polls. With each hurdle they have so assuredly swept aside, they have persistently been dismissed simply because of the frailties of the opposition put in front of them. Australia were old and technically inferior. Sterner tests would come. Enter England. But if the English hadn’t been so comical in their attitude to defending and if luck had smiled upon them perhaps the Germans would have been undone. Argentina would provide them with a more forensic workout, surely. It proved the very opposite. And by so easily smothering one of the most naturally artistic teams in the tournament whilst outplaying them with ease, Germany can now be seen as serious and deserving contenders for the prize.
Germany as a footballing nation seems to do things right. The Bundesliga has the lowest ticket prices and the highest attendances out of the five major European leagues. Fans are provided with free travel passes and season tickets are limited in order to allow the majority rather than a select, monied minority, to follow their clubs. The clubs, and I speak with an outsider’s perspective, do not seem to have the same conflict of interest when it comes to deferring their ambitions to that of the national team. The much-maligned Jabulani ball was introduced into the German league six months before the World Cup began whereas because of sponsorship agreements, the Premier League was prohibited from allowing its member clubs to use it in training, let alone in games themselves. So much for forward-planning.
Speaking of which, the average age of the German squad is twenty-five, bettered only by North Korea (24.8) (see north-korea) and Ghana (24.1) (see childs-play). By comparison, England (28.7), Brazil (28.6), Australia (28.4) and Italy (28.2) had the oldest squads. Far be it from me to take refuge in the starkness of statistics (see numbers-game) but there must be something in the fact that the youngest squads provided and continue to provide us with some of the tournament’s shining moments whilst the oldest laboured and stuttered towards their eventual demise. With this confidence in introducing young players onto the international stage, the German football association (which always includes a selection of former players rather than faceless grey men in blazers), allows itself to produce a national team which is programmed to succeed. However, there is nothing new in that. The German teams of the past have reached the final stages of big tournaments with single-minded regularity. One might even contend that as a consistent force in world football, Germany are on a par with Brazil having reached the same number of World Cup Finals whist also adding European titles to their honours list. Like the nation itself, the German national team has an amazing capacity for regeneration and through its foresight it is best placed to be at the forefront in the years ahead.
Whilst the romantic may have mourned the defeat of Ghana’s brave but ultimately naive team last night or the extinguishing of Diego Maradona’s ultimate act of exquisite redemption, the Germans, having tragically lost their number one goalkeeper, Robert Enke to suicide last November, have their very own quietly sober inspirations for success. Maybe we can all learn from such a wonderfully simple ethos.
Eleven men. Passing, moving, tackling, defending, attacking, staying in position. Winning.
Saturday 3rd July
Argentina 0 – Germany 4
Paraguay 0 – Spain 1