Germany's goalkeeper Manuel Neuer reacts following his team's 4-4 draw against Sweden in their World Cup 2014 Group C qualifying soccer match in Berlin October 16, 2012. (Photo : REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch (GERMANY - Tags: SPORT SOCCER) )
As the 2014 World Cup nears, a few teams are already being anointed as favorites to win it all.
Germany is among one of those teams. Their technical prowess, their immaculate passing game, and their intelligent attack minded system under Joachim Loew has made them perennial favorites all the way back in 2008. Back then, they lost in the championship to Spain, but as a young squad, many expected that the experiences there would serve them in the 2010 World Cup. Despite tremendous offensive outbursts in South Africa, the squad struggled against Spain in their biggest game of the tournament and settled for third place. The 2012 Euro Cup was then seen as the moment in which Germany would finally become the toast of Europe and many awaited a symbolic passing of the guard in a final versus Spain. But they failed to get past a surprising Italy squad in the semifinal that exposed an over-aggressive defense and rendered their virtuosic offense useless.
The patience is obviously starting to fade out on Low and his ability to provide results. Obviously there is still hope that this young squad, which includes the talents of Marcos Reus, Mesut Ozil, Mario Gotze, and Toni Kroos, will finally deliver in Brazil in less than two years' time. But the qualifiers have been far from ideal. They struggled in their first two wins against weak Faroe Islands and Austria before finally coming alive against the Irish. Tuesday's match against Sweden seemed like an opportune moment to seal their domination on the group, but in their biggest group game on home field, Germany proved unable to deliver yet again. This time, they suffered the most embarrassing result of all. Losing in the finals and semi-finals against major squads is one thing, but to blow a 4-0 lead with 30 minutes to go in front of your home fans against an inferior club is something completely different.
Germany ran out to a 4-0 lead thanks to two goals in the opening 15 minutes form Miroslav Klose. Right before the half ended Per Mertesacker added a third and it seemed that Germany was going to romp through this one. When Mesut Ozil added a fourth in the 56th, it seemed that Germany could cruise to a 6-0 win with facility.
But Sweden, despite not being in the same class as Germany, proved to have the will and desire to overcome their technical deficiencies (ironically, this is how German champions of the past characterized themselves). They were led by captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic who headed a masterful cross from substitute Kim Kallstrom past keeper Manuel Neuer to give Sweden some life. Two minutes later another loft from Kallstrom into the German box gave Mikael Lustig a prime scoring opportunity and he threw it between Neuer's legs. The first goal was tricky, but the second was unacceptable as Neuer should have had it since Lustig had a poor angle to shoot at. More importantly, the German defense should have adjusted to avoid being burned by the same play from the same player two times in a row. The culprit on both plays was Holger Badstruder who was out of position both times.
But it only got worse for Germany and Badstuder who was caught out of position by Alexander Kacaniklic when he found Johan Elander open for an easy blast into the far post. The ball went through three German defenders on the play and showcased the defense as flatfooted and disorganized. The game could have been tied in the 85th minute as Neuer made his worst mistake when he ran off his line to collect the ball. He missed and the ball went to Tobias Sana who fired wide of the empty net.
But it was only a tease of the worst to come as Germany continued looking discomposed in the waning minutes. A cross was met poorly by Mertesacker and found Rasmus Elm, whose volley turned him into national hero for a day.
Germany's disorganized backline was exposed and their inability to find composure after giving up three goals in the span of 15 minutes indicate that this team may not be ready mentally to win big games. They still have two years to make their mark at Brazil, but this squad is almost 4 years in the making and Joachim Low's constant failures in big matches may indicate that while he has developed a tremendous offensive juggernaut, he might not be the man to lead Germany back to the promised land of a fourth World Cup Championship. It is even unknown whether this team is on the same level as Spain. The current World Champions faltered massively yesterday as well, but they played a far better team than Germany did and they only allowed one goal to Germany's four. They have also won 3 major tournaments in four years.More importantly, the world champions have proven time and again that they know how to win big games even when not at their best. France was a big game and Spain wound up with a draw due mainly to their uncharacteristic aggressive play. It was a change in tactic that backfired and it is likely the last time Spain attempts it against strong defensive sides.
But Germany played their game; they did not experiment with tactics. They looked tremendous for much of the game but wound up hurting themselves. The collapse was monumental (Germany had never given up a 4-0 lead in their history) and it brought back more questions about this team's potential. They can score, but can they defend in the clutch? Is Loew the right coach for this team in big games? As the World Cup 2014 draws nearer, these questions will have to be answered by the Mannschaft.