Die Mannschaft: A Silent Revolution
Most football fans will know of Arsenal‘s transition from ‘Boring Boring Arsenal’ to the total football we see from them today. However, a similar transition has somehow gone under the radar of the mainstream media. Up until 2004, the German National Football team was characterized by tight man-man marking, a narrow midfield and an overall defensive mindset. In some ways, Germany’s football was a reflection of the nation itself. It is not an exaggeration to say that the post war self-imposed subjugation found its way onto the footballing pitch. But this could not last long.
Germany crashed out of Euro 2004 in the group stages, and this marked the beginning of a new era for the national football team. Rudi Voeller resigned and fellow 1990 World Cup winner and a former player under Arsene Wenger at Monaco – Juergen Klinsmann was appointed the Head Coach. This high profile appointment masked a less glamorous but a more crucial selection of Joachim Loew as his assistant.
Together, they decided that the ultra-defensive game was not suitable for Germany and their next generation of footballers. In any case, the World Cup on home soil was 2 years away, and they had to take risks to avoid another humiliation. The team was revamped and rebuilt around an attacking strategy.
The transition in the Deutsche NationalElf was initiated by an influx of young players, most of them born in the 80′s and too young to remember the fall of the Berlin Wall. They brought to the team an uninhibited style and flair not seen in the machine-like German teams of the past.
The attack was to be spearheaded by Miroslav Klose and the tall and powerful Lukas Podolski, both providing a formidable aerial threat. Unlike previous teams, there would now be fast wide players to supply the frontmen with ammunition. Philip Lahm was chosen to do the job as a Left Wing Back and on the right side was the veteran Berndt Schneider. In addition, David Odonkor, who could run a 100 metres in under 10.5 seconds was to be used as an impact substitute on the right wing.
The midfield was a solid bedrock comprising of the attack minded Michael Ballack and the defensive duo of Torsten Frings and the star of the future – Bastian Schweinsteiger. The defence was under the command of Center Backs Arne Friedrich and Christoph Metzelder. In a surprise move, Arsenal’s Jens Lehmann was chosen over the legendary Oliver Kahn.
The 2006 World Cup
The 1974 world cup in West Germany was a rather subdued affair. Germans considered it impolite to participate in any extravagant display of nationalism. But that was 1974. The first match of the 2006 World Cup kicked off between the hosts and Costa Rica. Many pundits predicted a 1-0 or a 2-0 win for the hosts and expected a drab affair. But within 6 minutes of the start, Philip Lahm fired in a shot from the edge of the penalty area into the top corner and German football was never the same again.
What followed was a barrage of goals, with the final score 4-2 in the hosts favor – the highest scoring opening match in World Cup history. Such fluidity in attack was the theme of the entire German campaign and it took them to a very respectable 3rd place at the finish. The breathtaking attacks by the NationalElf drew an outpouring of emotion and patriotism from the German crowds that according to the the English commentators present – “had not been witnessed since World War 2″
After 2006, Joachim Loew took over as Head Coach and his style of play was well engraved in the national team character. Euro 2008 saw more of the same brand of football and in the 2010 world cup, the new Germany truly arrived. The Australians were pulverized in the opening match and despite a hiccup against Serbia, Germany topped the group. 4 goals were thumped past footballing powerhouses England and Argentina (Messi who?) each. Even though they eventually lost out to Spain’s tiki-taka, the Germans scored 16 goals overall for their 3rd place compared to a mere 8 by the Spanish side that boasted of Barcelona and Real Madrid stars. This team now awaits new challenges. The World Cup in Brazil is far away, but 2012 is close and Germany has set her sights on Europe once more.