As defending World Champions, Germany will have the biggest target on their backs. With a talented, yet, less experienced roster this time around, will manager Joachim Löw be successful in guiding Die Nationalelf to their record-tying “fifth star?”
The German National Team has qualified for semi-final round of every World Cup since the 2002 tournament, and has not finished below third place since 1998. This remarkable run includes winning the 2014 World Cup, while dissecting Brazil 7-1 on their home soil in the process.
This has undoubtedly positioned them parallel to Spain as the most successful national football squad in the world since the turn of the century. But can Germany cement themselves as the perhaps the greatest ever by winning back-to-back World Cups? A feat we have not seen since the glory days of Brazil in 1962.
Getting to this point did not come without its bumps and bruises for the Germans. At the 1998 World Cup in France, the Germans were unceremoniously ousted in the quarter-finals by a young, hungry Croatian team. This was the final stand of the great generation of players that lifted the world champion trophy in Italy eight years prior.
Under mangers Berti Vogts, Erich Ribbeck, and Rudi Völler (1998-2004), Germany’s play had become stale and predictable, relying heavily on aging stars of years past. Additionally, the way football was being played on the pitch was changing, but the Germans were not adapting. Adapt or face extinction. Something had to give.
Starting with Jürgen Klinsmann’s appointment as manager in 2004, but more prominently under current gaffer Joachim Löw (2006-present), and highlighted in the critically acclaimed book Das Reboot, by Ralph Hoenigstein, Germany invested heavily in a new brand of football and a new crop of players to carry out the vision.
Gone were the days of a static German National Team, especially under Löw. With young, exciting, and intelligent players such as Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, Thomas Müller, Toni Kroos, Mesut Özil, and Manuel Neuer, to name a few, the Germans started playing a more dynamic, possession-based style of football. A giant had been reborn.
By 2008 Löw’s system was beginning to take shape as he guided Germany into the final of the European Championship. From there it was all about finding the perfect group of players to fit his formula and take Germany back to the promised land.
After another third-place finish at the 2010 World Cup and semi-final defeat at the 2012 European Championship, die Nationalelf were ready to take the final step on their long journey to restore Germany to its proper place in the sport as world champions.
It was in Brazil during the summer of 2014 where this dream would become a reality. The Germans crushed everything in their paths at the 2014 World Cup, winning six, drawing once, and suffering zero defeats. The aforementioned destruction of hosts Brazil (7-1) is perhaps the most impressive single-game performance in the history of the event.
To become truly immortal in football terms however, Germany must accomplish something that has only been done twice in history, and not since 1962: successfully defend their crown as World Cup Champions.
If Löw can maneuver his team to an eight-year reign as world champions he would cement himself as the finest international manager in the history of the sport. For the German National Team itself, they would leave no doubt, that they are the football measuring stick of the 21st century.
ROAD TO RUSSIA
Germany did not have a difficult path to World Cup qualification. In their group was Northern Ireland, Czech Republic, Azerbaijan, San Marino, and Norway. Compared to other groups, theirs was a walk in the park. The Germans won all ten of their matches with 43 goals scored and a mere four conceded
They were the only team in UEFA qualifying to achieve a perfect record. To say Joachim Löw’s squad cruised through the qualifying group stage would be an understatement. It could not have been any easier for die Nationalmannschaft. Thomas Müller and Sandro Wagner led the way with five goals.
STYLE OF PLAY
Germany typically play in a 4-2-3-1 with a defensive spine consisting of Bayern Munich stars Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng, and Joshua Kimmich. The German back line is known to push up and compress the space between themselves and the midfield.
As previously mentioned, Germany play a possession-based style of football with the full-backs overlapping and providing support in attack. Thomas Müller’s football instincts are world class. Look for the forward to make precise cuts into the box from the wing to create chances.
Timo Werner, who should spearhead the attack, is the opposite of Müller. He likes to play off of the shoulder of the defenders, precisely timing his runs to meet the keeper one-on-one in front of goal.
If Germany has a weakness it is their lack of experience in comparison to the 2014 team. What they do not lack is talent and depth. On paper, the Germans should cruise into the semi-finals. It is at that point where we will see if they have matured enough during the tournament to outclass the other giants of the sport.
Joachim Löw is not one of those managers that had a brilliant playing career. Quite the contrary in fact, he was average at best. The best years of his playing career were between 1985-1989 at SC Freiburg where he scored 38 goals in 116 appearances.
As a club manager Löw experienced moderate success with VfB Stuttgart (1996-98), winning the 1996-97 DFB Pokal and finishing as runners-up in the 1997-98 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup. Löw had a short but successful stint at Turkish club Fenerbahce (1998-99) as well as guiding Austria Vienna to first place in the Austrian Bundesliga (2003-04).
Löw was brought into the German National Team in 2004 as an assistant to then-manager Jürgen Klinsmann. The two met at a managers school, both sharing the same philosophy with a focus on attacking football. It was an easy decision to replace Klinsmann with Löw in 2006 after the former decided not to renew his contract.
Since taking over the reigns of the national team, Löw has guided Germany to one success after the other, highlighted by winning the World Cup in 2014 followed by the Confederations Cup in 2017. Germany has never failed to qualify for the semi-finals in any tournament under Joachim Löw.
KEY PLAYER: MARCO REUS
Marco Reus enters Russia 2018 under the radar. He may be Germany’s most complete player, but we simply have not seen him perform yet on this level. This player has had the worst of luck, missing the 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championship due to last-minute injuries ahead of each competition.
Reus was not to be denied this year. He is the heart and soul of Bundesliga giants Borussia Dortmund and could very well hold the key to Germany repeating as World Champions. Reus has pace, technique, great instincts and a high football IQ. He can play on either wing, centrally, or spearhead and attack if necessary.
While Germany’s opponents will likely be focusing on Thomas Müller, Timo Werner or Mesut Özil, it is Marco Reus who could be the player to surprise them all. The common phrase we hear about Reus is: “When he is healthy, Reus is great.” Well, Reus is healthy. Now, on football’s grandest stage, its time to show the world just how great he truly is.
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