Last three World Cups have been won by three different teams from Europe. And with three very different styles of play. Debojyoti Chakraborty dissects them at Goalden Times.
Germany won the World Cup in 2014 and created history. Not only did they become the first European country to win it on Latin American soil, they also marked the third successive European victory at the world stage after Italy in 2006 and Spain in 2010. But each of these three World Cup winning teams had a very unique approach to the game. From a sturdy defensive organization, to relentless passing to unambiguous direct approach – the three embodied as diverse a genre of football as one can think of. Let us now look deeper to recollect how these champion teams actually conquered the world. Final instalment – Germany, first European country to win the World Cup in Latin America.
V for Vendetta
Revolution in German football started some time back, but they stumbled at the final hurdle. Despite their failures in three consecutive World Cups, two European Championships – two final attempts and three semi-final appearances,– the Germans simply did not give up. They continued their consistent approach towards a long-term commitment of brave, free flowing football with great technique and imagination in the final third. In addition, Joachim Löw blended two of the most prominent features of new age German domestic football – passing style of Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich and the pressing game of Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund – quite beautifully. A common element in both the styles was the emphasis given to the midfield in a typical 4-2-3-1 system. Blessed with a plethora of midfielders – that too in all departments – Germany used 4-3-3 and tweaked their midfield set up according to their opponents to boss over the game.
But Löw did not opt for a typical midfield double pivot. He has never been an admirer of a designated holding midfielder in his starting XI, nor has he been keen to have three central midfielders to pack the middle third. Instead, he went for three midfielders – Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira and Tony Kroos – who were dynamic enough to frequently interchange between a straight and an inverted triangle thus creating gaps. This is as good a midfield as one can get – it had everything from style, substance to steel. And Löw extracted the best out of this trio.
That adventurism, that constant movement off the ball, however, does not mean that the defensive duties and shapes are compromised. Every member of the team had the responsibility to work hard off the ball, track back while not in possession, and squeeze spaces denying the opposition any room or time to play through.
Germany had strong participation in their squad from Bayern Munich – Manuel Neuer, Lahm, Kroos, Schweinsteiger, Müller, Boateng, Götze – seven in all. All of them were potential starters, yet none had a fixed role or position – even goalkeeper Neuer sometimes played more as a sweeper than a regulation shot stopper. So many options, it was like a kid in a candy store. Adaptability was the key and this Die Mannschaft team showed how to master it.
Average Pass Length (m)
Different players deployed in the central midfield – but with similar impressive outcome
The problem with this Germany side, if any at all, was not tactical, but psychological. Löw started the campaign with skipper Philipp Lahm playing in the central midfield – albeit as cover for Schweinsteiger, who was still recovering from injury. Lahm is a very versatile player, but certainly he could not dictate the tempo of the match in the midfield anchor role. Besides, this forced Germany to go with a flat back four of all centre backs – Benedikt Höwedes, Mats Hummels, Per Mertesacker and Jérôme Boateng – and lose out on natural width. Löw hesitated putting in Lahm, a natural overlapping full back, sometimes playing as a wing back, as the right back, as it could have exposed the defence with Höwedes appearing way below par on the other flank. This predictability and lack of leadership in Germany’s centre backs was heavily exposed against Ghana, and more so against Algeria, where only Neuer, playing very high as a sweeper, saved the day for them. Löw had no other option but to have Lahm move back next game onwards.
Another battle within was the choice of central striker. Löw had only one out and out striker in his squad – possibly the last active poacher in world football, 35-year old Miroslav Klose. Even then his chances were limited as Germany preferred a false 9. May be it was justified given the number of attack-minded midfielders they had. Mesut Özil, André Schürrle, Thomas Müller, Mario Götze – whoever started in the front three positions, had the license to drift around, constantly change positions – goals simply had to come with so many sources. Müller, in particular, stayed wide on the left as Höwedes was never comfortable venturing forward. Özil, Schürrle or Götze – the rightsided attacking midfielders could roam a bit more freely with either Lahm or Boateng providing width on the outside. But ultimately the lack of verticality in German attack prompted Löw to slot Klose in the starting XI. Germany now playing a 4-4-2 with Müller as the withdrawn striker, shifted slightly towards the wide channel. Klose, however, did not disappoint as he went on to become the record goal scorer in the history of World Cup.
Honestly, whatever team Löw would have fielded, tactically that side would have had weak points. But on the other hand, that very German side would have been the team to beat in World Cup 2014. And that is exactly what everyone got to see. Germany presented a blueprint for success – it cannot be achieved overnight. After the Euro 2004 exit in the group stage, German Football association ( Deutscher Fußball-Bund – DFB) revamped the club and country academy structure. They emphasized on and invested in youth development and in bringing up top class coaches from the grass root level. That journey resulted in a total resurrection of German football culminating in World Cup victory.
Featured Image Courtesy: NY Times
Tik Tact Tales
World Cup 2014 is still fresh in our memory. So what new did we come across? Which teams impressed us with their discipline or attacking flair? And which managers did impress us with their tactical maneuvering? Debojyoti Chakraborty analyzes all these and more here with GT.
With the FIFA 2014 World Cup finally coming to a close, there has been a great deal of debate going on about whether this World Cup was the greatest ever. There were several indications that it was definitely one of the best in post world war era. If on the one hand we had loads of goals (at least in the group stages), plenty of drama and endless emotions, captivating us for more than a month, on the other hand we also witnessed some fascinating tactical battles throughout the campaign. Let us take a look at some tactics that left a lasting impression.
Germany started the competition in 4-3-3 formation with Philipp Lahm, possibly the best right back in the world playing as midfield anchor. Joachim Löw had a fluid front three of Mesut Özil, Mario Götze and Thomas Müller with the licence to roam and interchange at will.
Germany stormed through to the second round but looked slow and susceptible against an attacking opponent. In the round of 16 match against Algeria, the German full backs –Höwedes and Shkodran Mustafi, centre backs in their club teams, started venturing forward but without any substantial impact. It exposed their centre backs and Löw , the mastermind, unleashed Manuel Neuer in an extremely aggressive sweeper keeper role. It was a move which could have backfired but he trusted his keeper who never let him down with 17 perfectly timed clearances outside his penalty box. Germany, however, looked more threatening and settled as Lahm moved to his natural right back role to replace the injured Mustafi, thus paving the way for Sami Khedira in the midfield. The latter added much needed pace in the Die Mannschaft middle third while Bastian Schweinsteiger looked far more comfortable in the deep ball playing role than his captain – the move ultimately elevated Germany to another level but happened more by chance than planning.
Löw made another decisive switch in the next match against France by introducing an out and out striker in Miroslav Klose upfront. He provided a focal point to the German attack, and allowed Müller to start at his usual right hand channel and drift inside. Although Klose had little impact on the game in the attacking third and more precisely, inside the penalty box, he helped push back the French centre backs, and thus freed up the space for German midfielders to maintain the goal threat.
With Khedira getting ruled out during warm up and his replacement Christoph Kramer having a poor game before leaving the field due to an injury , Germany were set back in the final with the shortage of central midfielders. Özil had to fall back to the midfield trio where he was never at ease. Löw though had the final say as his super subs André Schürrle and Götze combined to clinch the title.
Germany had a very peculiar team – from an ultra-modern goalkeeper to the old-fashioned goal poacher. But just like the previous two winners Italy and Spain, Germany also had a variety of attacking threats– they seemed to find a goal scorer from virtually every corner of the field during critical moments. Joachim Löw should be credited for not only winning the World Cup, but also nurturing so many young talents en route.
Alejandro Sabella made a huge tactical error as he started the campaign with a 3-5-2, but he quickly went for damage control at half-time. With Bosnia and Herzegovina using only a lone striker upfront, Sabella spared an extra man from the back to add more solidity and control in the midfield. Lionel Messi definitely enjoyed the hybrid 4-3-3 formation and his own false 9 role.
Sabella drastically changed things around in his next match and moved to a 4-2-4 system against an Iran side expected to sit back and defend for their lives. Iran showed tremendous discipline and robbed Argentina of any space. Once again Argentina failed to impress.
Finally Sabella addressed the core issue, albeit through an injury to front man Sergio Agüero. Ezequiel Lavezzi was introduced and though he did not produce a tangible end product, he was honest in his wide position and provided a proper 4-2-3-1 balance to the team which gave Messi the licence to roam around. Messi, as expected, was heavily marked throughout the World Cup. However, he constantly managed to drag at least two of the opponent midfielders out of position, which was opening up a vast area between the lines for others to drift into. Unfortunately, more so after the injury to Ángel di María, none of his team mates managed to take advantage. All of Argentina’s movements were distressingly linear playing into opposition hands.
Messi dictated much of the tempo for Argentina. His reserved, calculated and sudden burst of speed while attacking meant that Argentina’s tempo changed from the qualifiers, where they preferred breaking quickly. This tactical shift was very critical for La Albiceleste – the more classic eloquent Latin American display with Messi playing an archetypal Argentine #10 devoid of any strong European influence.
Pegged by injuries to key players, Sabella opted for Lavezzi and Enzo Pérez– a central midfielder –on the wings, semi final onwards. Lavezzi, a forward, was naturally more effective venturing forward. It showcased how two makeshift wide players, given virtually similar roles, carried them out quite differently. Especially against Germany in the final, Sabella missed a trick by not asking Lavezzi to stick to the right side taking on an uncomfortable German left back Benedikt Höwedes, a right central defender.
In the finals against Germany, Sabella made an inexplicable change at half time, a switch which tilted the balance of the game in Germany’s favour – in came a half fit Agüero for a very lively Lavezzi and Argentina changed to a midfield diamond. They lost all the width and pace down the flank, and played to the German hands by being extremely narrow in the central areas. Sabella opted for a star player sacrificing the team shape and it cost him the World Cup.
Louis van Gaal deployed three centre backs with a high-risk strategy – high defensive line, ready to keep possession in deep areas in own half and launch direct balls forward bypassing the opponent midfield and defensive lines. There was clear instruction for two outside centre halfs to track down the two most forward players from the opponent team, even if it meant going beyond own midfield line. This paved the way for a high pressing game with an open channel for kick starting quick counter attacks.
This strategy had some loopholes though. Australian midfielders were ready to make runs deep from their own half to exploit the zone vacated by Dutch centre backs high line. But this, in effect, opened up the game more as Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben found themselves one on one against the opponents’ mid fielders. Van Gaal closed down the game by bringing in a pacy winger Memphis Depay to keep the Australian full backs more occupied. A change of formation to 4-3-3 also deprived the Australian front three any open space, resulting in a slower game, where gap in quality eventually won.
One masterstroke by van Gaal was using Dirk Kuyt, a forward by position, as an auxiliary wing back. It allowed the Oranje to transit seamlessly from a three centre back to classical 4-4-2 during different phases of the match. This was pretty apparent in the round of 16 match against Mexico. After a stalemate in the first half where both the teams cancelled each other out in a 3-5-2 set up and were producing a slow drab game, Van Gaal switched Kuyt to a conventional full back and introduced an out an out winger. The team played an immensely attacking 4-2-1-3 formation, though at the cost of a weaker midfield , as the Dutch won the game through wide areas by pushing the opponents’ wing backs even further – rather 3-4-1-2 to very attacking 4-2-1-3.
A very courageous move was already made by substituting Van Persie for Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, a natural penalty box poacher, perfect for getting on the end of crosses. But the move of the match came during the water break, after which Kuyt moved upfront from his right-back position, with Georginio Wijnaldum covering the right of the pitch. This tactical switch resulted in the late Dutch dominance and a 2-1 comeback win.
The Dutch were good against teams taking the game to them which meant more space to work in counters. But in the quarter final they faced Costa Rica, a mirror image of themselves, albeit with less attacking flair and prowess. It could have produced a stalemate but not with Netherlands involved. Van Gaal moved his wing backs further up to push back the opposition wing-backs, stretched his forwards with Wesley Sneijders’ across the pitch and kept the Costa Rican centre backs occupied to basket their build-up play.
Costa Rica were content at keeping their shape at the back, and hence did not have anything to offer going forward. The Dutch were controlling the game but had a redundant defender in a 3 v 1 at the back, with none of the three centre backs stepping up into midfield to dictate the game. The Oranje, surprisingly took second half of the extra-time to address this issue, but rightfully changed from a 3-4-3 to a 4-2-4, with and Huntelaar coming on up front at the expense of Bruno Martins Indi.
Then came the most talked about substitution of this World Cup. within the 119th minute, van Gaal substituted sub goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen with Tim Krul. It was more of a psychological move than anything else : Krul is not a penalty specialist, but the iotasub convinced Costa Rica that he was.
And what an inspired substitution it was! Except for the first kick, Krul came out of his goal every time the striker walked towards the penalty spot to place it, normally walking to one side. Then Krul dived in the opposite direction of his walk. And Krul guessed it right every time, saving two in the process.
Netherlands were brilliant throughout the tournament, with van Gaal relying upon an uncommon, tight man-marking system. He was refreshingly flexible to change his formation each game to match his opposition midfield, with wing backs dropping back to have an overload in defence.
Luiz Felipe Scolari changed the way his three attacking men lined up, a tactic that surprised everyone. Oscar, most effective when operated centrally, was drifted to a wider role on the right. Neymar loves to operate from left but he was effectively used as a support striker to centre forward Fred. Hulk, who started right behind the lone striker Fred during, last year’s Confederations Cup win was shifted to the left wing. This change may be due to Neymar’s increased stocks since last year which prompted Big Phil to offer his star player more time with the ball. But this overhaul complicated things for their most creative player, Oscar, who was visibly not comfortable playing out of position.
There is no denying the fact that nowadays Brazil lacks real skilful, creative, attacking footballers, and Scolari, hence, rightly set up the Seleção as a primarily counter-attacking team. He showed his experience by playing a midfield shuttler in Ramires and sacrificing one of the front men against teams fielding three men at the back. But sometimes he was let down by the inexperience of Neymar, who played more like a second striker than a number 10, making himself vulnerable to marking.
In the annihilation at the hands of Germany, everything that could go wrong for the hosts went wrong. The most perplexing decision was the inclusion of Bernard in the starting XI. There has been questions on whether it was solely because he is a local Belo Horizonte boy, and Scolari, having lost Neymar already, was desperately trying to cash in on his popularity. The whole team performance was bizarre. Brazil were atrociously broken into two sections –six defenders, four attackers, and no midfield link between them. The defence could not pass the ball to the attackers, and the front four could not retain possession much longer to ease the pressure on the back six.
In the second half, Scolari made some changes – Paulinho and Ramires replaced Hulk and Fernandinho, switching to more of a 4-3-3, with Luiz Gustavo behind Ramires and Paulinho. In hindsight, this is probably the team and shape Scolari should have started with.
Chile were one of the most versatile sides in the tournament. Jorge Sampaoli dished out a midfield diamond with plenty of variations. Marcelo Díaz, the holding midfielder would often drop deep making it a three centre back allowing the full backs to operate more like wingbacks. From there, long diagonal switch of play across the width of the field was one of the characteristics of quick Chilean counter attacks. Up front, at top of the diamond, Jorge Valdivia played further up more like a false nine rather than in a number 10 role. Striker duo of Alexis Sánchez and Edurado Vargas regularly drifted wide dragging the opponent centre halves with them and creating space for Valdivia to run into. Sampaoli also proved his worth as a clever tactician by introducing a fast, direct centre forward Jean Beausejour late in matches and switching to more traditional 4-3-3 to exploit tiring defences.
At times, Chile showed they can be reactive and can adapt very quickly. Sampoli fielded 3-4-1-2 against Spain, to replicate the Dutch pressing game against Spain. He was not copying blindly though – Chile were cautious, giving due respect to Spain as often they sat back deep to form a five man defensive line. But they overloaded when attacking and quickly changed play by passing the ball from one flank to another, a highlight of their famous win.
Jose Pékerman, the veteran Argentine coach, was widely expected to field a narrow 4-2-2-2 in the World Cup but was handicapped by last minute injury to star forward Radamel Falcao and shifted to a 4-2-3-1 formation. Star of the campaign was James Rodríguez – not only he dazzled forward but always came deep to collect the ball and play some glorious through balls. Rodríguez was thought to be uncomfortable in a converted winger position but he showed tremendous adaptability and his longitudinal awareness was absolutely brilliant. It also helped that they had two skilful full backs in Juan Camilo Zúñiga and Pablo Armero who besides providing width and making overlapping runs, were comfortable with the ball deep in opponent territory, holding and dribbling past defenders. Colombia displayed tremendous discipline with the back four and the two holding midfielders, and lit the stage with Rodríguez and another trickster in Juan Cuadrado. But they suffered up front as both Jackson Martínez and Teófilo Gutiérrez failed to impress. Had they got a decent striker in the final third to support Rodríguez, Colombia might just have gone all the way.
Costa Rica shocked everyone the most with their honest and disciplined display of tactical football. Jorge Luis Pinto, in his second stint as the national team coach, deployed a back three in a counter attack based system. This was in stark contrast to all other teams in the tournament having a three centre half system – Netherlands, Mexico et al were comfortable with the ball, pressed higher and had a possession based approach. On the other hand, Pinto’s team defended deep and relied on direct counter attacks – not through long balls but refreshingly eye catching speedy passing to wide areas. Sometimes they did press high up but generally they allowed the opponent teams to come at them, get exposed at the back and then break free.
Costa Rica were brilliant at setting up off side traps – their tally of 41 successful traps till the quarter final stages was more than double of the second ranked team (Germany) in this category. It shows how cohesive their defensive unit was. But the same unit struggled to switch to a conventional flat four after going down to ten men against the round of 16 match against Greece. Pinto’s tactical shift to 4-4-1 took a while to get going as the wing backs continued to play very wide instead of playing close to the centre backs. They eventually rectified themselves by playing narrow, helping out the stoppers and leaving the flanks to be taken over by the wingers. They eventually won the match on penalties, but did not have enough tricks up their sleeves to progress further in the competition.
Didier Deschamps succeeded in bringing France out of the 2010 World Cup debacle and spearheaded a well-knit unit. France’s star performer was Mathieu Valbuena who occupied the right-sided position in a three men attack but often drifted inside into pockets of spaces in more central positions. He carried out the double role of a right winger as well as a perfect #10 – on top of a midfield diamond – with aplomb.
But Deschamps struggled to fit in his striker duo of Karim Benzema and Olivier Giroud in the starting XI efficiently. First of all, Valbuena had to be shifted in the left wing where his utility was compromised. Then, Giroud could not hold up the ball up front effectively enough, and often he mistimed his runs to create space for others. Benzema also became less effective whenever asked to operate from the left in a 4-3-3 system, did not offer any width at all, and could not go behind the last defender into goal scoring positions. In effect, his narrowness resulted in Valbuena’s diminished return.
But Benzema playing as a wide man was even more problematic due to his minimal defensive contribution. Against less disciplined teams such as Switzerland (at the group stage) this approach was still workable, since Swiss right-back Stephane Lichtsteiner was regularly getting caught in the French half and Benzema could exploit the space in counter-attack. But against more tactically sound sides like Nigeria in the round of 16 match, Efe Ambrose had a more balanced role to carry out. He attacked the French left wing with no one tracking him and combined well with Peter Odemwingie to create problems for Patrice Evra.
Les Blues were playing a lop-sided 4-4-2 and were going nowhere. Deschamps addressed the issue by taking off Giroud, introducing Antoine Griezmann, and shifting Benzema upfront in a classic 4-3-3. This move changed the game – Griezmann’s directness and verticality in possession proved decisive as he linked well with both Benzema and Valbuena. France won courtesy a Paul Pogba header from a corner but ran out of ideas in the quarter final against eventual winner Germany.
Marc Wilmots biggest tactical genius was perhaps the use of his substitutes. In the opener against Algeria he struggled in the first half with a 4-4-1-1 and an inept toothless attack. At the half time, Kevin de Bryune was shifted to a central position, and Belgium now had a potent target man with super sub Marouane Fellaini playing as the second striker. Fellaini did not disappoint and pulled Belgium level with a brilliant header.
Wilmots then put up an example for everyone – he did not hesitate to start with Divock Origi upfront, ahead of his number 1 striker, an underperforming Romelu Lukaku in the knock out stages. But he was not stubborn to prove himself right as he changed things whenever required. The round of 16 match against USA was turning out to be a frustrating one for the Belgian faithful. USA kept on losing the ball frequently and Belgium kept on squandering chances against an impregnable Tim Howard. Wilmots could do nothing much but still he shook things up by introducing a bit of pace by introducing Kevin Mirallas in place of Dries Mertens. In extra-time Lukaku was called off the bench to inject even more pace upfront at the expense of Origi. And Belgium finally got the crucial breakthrough as Lukaku teed up De Bruyne on the break. Ten minutes later the reverse sequence happened and Lukaku’s cameo helped Belgium overcome a stubborn USA side. Belgium created a lot in the match, but a clinical striker made all the difference late in the match.
Wilmots was handicapped with the lack of natural full backs – everyone in his back four was a centre half. So there was no consistent overlapping runs, no overload in the wide area and one cannot succeed at the World Cup without such a basic weapon.
England coach Roy Hodgson excited all of us with four attackers in a 4-2-4 system. But obvious downside of this formation was lack of defensive responsibilities and less protection for full backs which cost them a lot. Also Wayne Rooney’s positioning was an issue – he was shifted constantly during and in between matches from either flanks to the behind the striker position. World Cup was no place to decide the best position for the team’s most influential player.
Paulo Bento used Cristiano Ronaldo more as a second striker and shifted Raul Merieles towards the left to cover for his vacated space. This was effectively a 4-4-2 but with neither forwards tracking back, it was always a lost battle in the central midfield where the opponent always created a 3 on 2 overload.
Greece are one of the most defensive sides the World has ever seen. But they showed their attacking flair too against a 10-man Costa Rica while trailing by a goal. Like any other side, they introduced strikers, moved up the # 10 to play more like a 4-2-4. But they did not simply hit the long balls – instead they pushed the ball wide, stretched the play, forced Costa Rica to work hard, tired them out, and lashed some brilliant crosses into the box. They were patient throughout and finally were able to equalize.
This World Cup saw a return of three centre back formation. But at the end, many of the teams shifted from 3-5-2 to 5-3-2 as the wing backs were instructed to be more responsible defensively. At the end of the day, it was evident that the same system could look very different by the roles carried out by individual players.
Another notable aspect was that how cagy an affair it can become when two sides fielding the same 3-5-2 formation lock horns (Uruguay vs Italy in the group stage, Netherlands vs Costa Rica in the last eight). Strikers become well marked by the insurance of an extra sweeper; there is no free width to be exploited as the wide areas are well guarded by the wing backs creating 1 v 1 all the time. Midfield area becomes too predictable and three CMs cancel each other out.
As we advanced in the tournament, teams got more cautious. Full backs / wing backs were instructed to track their opposite numbers more closely rather than being used as an outlet for attack. This reduced the possibility of having a 2 v 1 overload in the opposition wide areas and the game got more predictable. Same was the scenario in the middle of the pitch – the midfield triangles were formed much lower; sometimes entirely well within own half by the central midfielders and very few ambitious balls were played forward. As a result goal scoring opportunities diminished and so did the goals.
At the end of the day it really comes down to the individual players. The coach can always come up with the best of plans to tackle the opponent. But it depends on the players’ adaptability and discipline if they can execute that plan. And how well individuals can execute the tactics differentiates the winner from the rest of the bunch.
FIFA World Cup With Bollywood Curry
With World Cup just around the corner we re-imagined few of the cult Bollywood movie posters and gave them a football twist in a a humorous, cryptic and minimalist way to wish luck few of the popular nations. This is nothing official but to spice up the month long journey coming ahead. Enjoy – Football in Filmy Attire (in short we call it FIFA).
Argentina – Will He or won’t He be a witness this time?
Brazil – The zeal for beauty
England – For the Lion hearted
France- Head vs heart. Can they overcome the battle within?
Germany – Can they steel a win?
Italy – What’s cooking, Pastafarians?
Netherlands – Thirsting for a win
Spain – Will the bull run continue for the reigning champions?
G is for Gruelling
No Group in World Cup is easy. G has an ensemble cast with no team favorite for the 2nd spot. Goalden Times previews with Ankit Mitra.
Group G’s lineup boasts of one of the most consistent teams in World Cup history, the team of current World Player of the Year, the team with the best World Cup record from their continent, and a team which has regularly caused upsets in the competition. All the teams in the group had cleared the group stage in South Africa 2010 which speaks of their strength.
Die Mannschaft go into this year’s tournament as one of the favourites, though the very dilemma of how to play may be their undoing. They had an almost perfect qualifying record with nine wins from ten games scoring 36 goals in the process, which is the highest number of goals by any side in the European qualifying zone.
Germany, who once boasted of devastating strikers like Gerd Muller, Jurgen Klinsmann, Karl-Heinze Rummenigge and Rudi Voller among others, are right now frantically trying to decide who will lead their charge upfront. An ageing Miroslav Klose, current top goal-scorer for Germany (tied with Gerd Muller), is the only option for Löw considering that other strikers haven’t had the best of seasons lately. Mario Gomez (once considered a confirmed starter after Klose), Max Kruse were called up as probables but were not chosen. It is unfortunate that one of the more successful German strikers currently in the Bundesliga, Stefan Kiessling who would have been a logical inclusion, will not be a part of the team because of his personal issues with Löw. It brings back memories of how Stefan Effenberg was ostracized for non-footballing reasons from the German team in the late 90s and early 2000 and how that hurt them.
The midfield is where Germany’s resources are enviable. From the very experienced Bastian Schweinsteiger to the current young superstar Mario Götze, Germany has some of the best midfielders in the world at their disposal. Marco Reus is unlucky to miss out due to his last minute injury. But even then the likes of Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira, Andre Schurrle, Toni Kroos, Julian Draxler, Lucas Podolski, Thomas Muller can create another selection headache for Löw which many a manager would love to have. However, Germany have experimented a lot on its way to the World Cup with their midfield formation, once resorting to a striker-less formation with Götze in a false nine role. It can be said that for that reason they haven’t settled on a system and a first choice player list in this area. It may be their undoing as many of the players thrive under a different role at their club whereas they might have to play in a completely different way for the national team.
Defensively Germany is unpredictable and far from impregnable, as they were once considered. Playing a more fluid style has resulted in the defenders having to play much higher up. It’s not just the defenders who have to be comfortable on the ball, the goalkeeper too must exhibit such qualities. In Manuel Neuer, Germany arguably have the best goalkeeper in the world. However, his maverick ways make him prone to moments of madness which his coach doesn’t appreciate and hence the more pragmatic Roman Weidenfeller is on standby. Captain Philip Lahm will take his place in the usual right fullback position in which he is considered one of the best, but the central defensive pairing is an area of concern for Löw. Mats Hummels has returned after a long layoff due to injury and is yet to find the form that made him one of the hottest prospects a couple of seasons back. Per Mertesaker, in spite of his experience, may lose out to Jerome Boateng due to his obvious lack of speed, which has been exposed time and again by skillful speedy opponents. Boateng has played in the centre back role for a long time for his club – however he is still not as reliable in the role as the injured Holger Badstuber was.
Having come so close and then losing out in the last few editions have made a lot of fans pessimistic about their chances. But, Löw and his boys would love to do justice to their tag and bring home the gold.
The European ‘Seleccao’ go into the World Cup as underdogs with most pundits dismissing them as potential contenders for the crown. Their dire displays during qualifying and the fact they had to come through a play-off doesn’t excite a critic much about their chances. However, it is this very lack of pressure, sometimes mixed with underestimation that may turn out as the trump card for Portugal.
Today Portugal has been equated with Cristiano Ronaldo, and for good measure. The captain is not only the best player Portugal have, but is also the current holder of the World Player of the Year award. His influence on the game is such that at times he has single- handedly changed the morale of the team simply by his presence on the field. Cristiano leads from the front quite literally, and in all honesty he is Portugal’s only reliable option upfront. Strikers Hugo Almeida as well as Helder Postiga really haven’t shone or seemed dangerous in front of goal. Profligacy upfront has cost Portugal a lot in the qualifiers. However, in the World Cup there are no second chances so the lack of other options upfront besides their talismanic captain still is Portugal’s achilles heel.
Portugal’s midfield though less vaunted is actually full of quality. The obvious star is playmaker Joao Moutinho. Long overshadowed and underrated in the shadow of Cristiano, Joao is the actual man who conducts the team’s tempo. If Ronaldo needs to keep scoring, he has to depend on Moutinho for that final ball. Moutinho is ably backed up by the relentless veteran workhorse Raul Meireles, along with the experienced Miguel Veloso and Silvestre Varela. Young gun William Carvalho too injects that burst of excitement and youthful vigour in a very experienced midfield. Nani has had quite a few indifferent seasons. However, if he finds form, his trickery and skill with the ball will come quite handy.
Defensively Portugal have suffered due to absolutely unforgivable lapses of concentration. Pepe and Bruno Alves are a good pairing in the centre but their lack of positional awareness has cost Portugal dearly. But on their day Pepe and Alves are as solid as a rock, not considering they are also extremely good when coming forward during set pieces. Portugal have other options too like Ricardo Costa and Neto but manager Bento has generally favoured the Alves and Pepe pairing. Coentrao on the left full back position is essential for Portugal’s success. His combination with Cristiano in the left wing is Portugal’s most potent attacking option; especially, due to the fact that Portugal tend to play on the counter attack. Hence, the roles of Coentrao and Joao Pereira are vital for the team.
Portugal being vaunted as a one man show and unlikely to win, may come back to haunt their critics as they have the capability and potential to beat every team. However, being plagued by lapses of concentration and also a lot of profligacy on their own part may thwart the dreams of many Navegadore fans.
Klinsmann, who was at the helm of the German side in 2006, is in charge of the US team now and he had his critics questioning his ability after Honduras beat them 2-1 in the first match of the final round of qualifying in the CONCACAF zone. But his side came back strongly and won seven of their ten games scoring 15 goals and finally winning the group four points ahead of the runners-up Costa Rica.
Klinsmann’s US side is very strong in work ethics. Klinsmann has been a tough taskmaster and he has not hesitated to take the tough calls. He shocked the world by leaving out USA’s all time favorite player and leading goal scorer Landon Donovan out of the final squad. But that might just spur the chosen ones – Julian Green (a teenage prospect), MLS veterans Chris Wondolowski and World Cup rookie Brad Davisto put in a bit more to justify the faith bestowed upon them. Klinsmann has been instrumental in building a much deeper player pool, both through persuading dual-nationals (mostly German-Americans) to play for the US national team and giving a chance to the talented players from Major League Soccer in US who didn’t get a look-in in the earlier regime.
Goalkeeper Tim Howard is aging but still efficient. His defenders have experience in Bundesliga and England. Roma’s Michael Bradley will lead the diamond shaped midfield while the upfront will see Clint Dempsey partnering with the Sunderland man Jozy Altidore who had a terrific goal scoring run in the qualifying. In the wings, Julian Green, son of an American father and German mother, who spent part of his youth career at Bayern Munich, may emerge as a hot new prospect after the tournament. After having played for the German under 16, 17 and 19 side, he has opted to play for US at the senior level.
USA had been known for sitting deep, defending with gusto and sneaking in a few points here and there with their counter-attacking. Klinsmann’s current team is more ambitious and likes to keep the ball. But still they cannot boast of the athleticism of a Ghana side, a superstar leading their pack like Portugal or a rich footballing tradition like the Germans. Whether the German World Cup winner’s side can upset the Germans and others in the group is something that we all would wait to see.
Ghana has been the best team of Africa in the last two World Cups. In 2006, the beat Czech Republic and the USA but finally got eliminated by Brazil. 2010 was even more tragic for them. They again beat USA to reach the quarter final and almost became the first African team to make it to the semifinal but a handball on the goal-line by Luis Suarez prevented Dominic Adiyiah from scoring in the last minute and Asamoah Gyan missed the resulting penalty. Uruguay went on to win in penalty shoot-out.
Following their exploits in 2010 World Cup, they were expected to come to Brazil as the best African team ever. But sadly they have regressed following that stupendous campaign. They have faltered in the 2012 and 2013 African Cup of Nations – that too against Zambia and Burkina Faso, teams Ghana are expected to dominate. But they have shown glimpses of their strength in the World Cup qualifying campaign.
Ghana was drawn in one of the most difficult qualifying groups with the 2012 African champions Zambia, Lesotho and Sudan. They did extremely well to win five of their six games and were drawn against seven-time African champions Egypt. Winning 6-1 at home against them, the Black Stars ensured their tickets for Brazil.
The Ayew brothers are yet to ignite the big stage on fire. Wonder kid Isaac Vorsah has failed to progress as expected and finds himself missing from the Brazil boarding flight. Gyan is vying his trade in the middle-east instead of playing in a top European side. Still Gyan will definitely mean business upfront with able support from the midfield from the likes of Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari. Kevin-Prince Boateng with his all-round ability will be another threat. Gahana has very skillful wide men and one of them, the Olympique de Marseille winger Andre Ayew, may also emerge as one of the stars of the tournament. But Ghana’s fortunes will depend on the performance of versatile Juventus midfielder Kwadwo Asamoah. Asamoah can slot in effortlessly anywhere in the Ghanaian midfield playing in a 3-5-2 formation – be it a box-to-box central midfield role, anchorman, defensive left winger or the attacking lynchpin. Overall Ghana is a very strong prospect with key strength being industriousness and stamina. Their weakness is their temperament the fact that they lack experience at such a high stakes tournament and that they don’t have a player who can see the team through in dire situations. Also they could have done with a creative player in the central midfield role aka Yaya Toure of Ivory Coast or at least the experience of Nigerian John Obi Mikel. May be the return to form of Boateng may ease the burden on Asamoah and allow him to express himself more freely.
Germany and Portugal are the likely contenders to qualify from the group. However, both Ghana and USA may prove to be giant killers and cause an upset. There will be a number of crunch games in the group. The result of Portugal vs Germany will probably decide the group topper; the two teams met thrice in the last four major tournaments, with Germany keeping a 100 percent winning record. But this may be Cristiano’s last World Cup and he will be expected to be the man with a mission. Germany vs USA will be another interesting match with Klinsmann and Low in the respective dugouts.
Ghana and USA met each other in the last two versions of the tournament in the knock out stage with Ghana winning both the times. This will be the first time when they meet at the group stage. This match will also be a memorable one as it would see the Boateng brothers locking horns with each other.
Die Mannschaft: Retrospection Required
The German team thought this was their tournament; they thought they were destined to win it. At the end it was another semi-final exit. Kinshuk Biswas analyses their performance in Euro 2012
Germany, one of the pre-tournament favourites of Euro 2012, finished as one of the losing semi-finalists. A great result for other teams but not for the Mannschaft. After losing the final of the 2008 edition and World Cup semi-final to Spain, this team was considered the closest challengers to the Spanish. Eventually the team lost to their old nemesis Italy yet again in the latter stages of a major tournament.
Germany were the only team to qualify with a 100% record in the group stages. In the first match against Portugal they were lucky to come away with a win. They dominated possession and controlled the play but the defence did not look solid with Jérôme Boateng, a converted centre-back playing at right-back, looking shaky. The midfield looked solid but not spectacular. Mario Gomez scored the only goal of the match with a clinical header. Portugal created some good chances with a Pepe shot bouncing on the goal-line after hitting the underside of the bar. However, Germany did look the better team with a more positive outlook in the first match.
The second match, a mouth-watering meeting against the Dutch, was a bit of an anti-climax as the Germans were in a different league outplaying their opponents. The final score of 2-1 was flattering to the Dutch due the plethora of chances missed by Thomas Mueller and Mario Gomez. Gomez looked very sharp scoring two more goals. The defence was better but there was a feeling that goals could be scored against Germany with Robin van Persie scoring a nice goal for Holland.
Going into the last match, Germany was in a situation that a win against Denmark would guarantee them the top spot in the group. The manager was forced to make changes in defence, with Boateng suspended, playing Lars Bender at right-back. Lukas Podolski, playing in his 100th match, scored for the Germans. Again Germany conceded a poor goal from a corner kick-off, a Nicklas Bendtner header. The team created chances in the second half before eventually winning by a goal scored by Bender.
The ‘Debt Derby’ and Old Nemesis
The quarter-final match against Greece was the most dominant match played by the German team. The manager had made three changes bringing in the young Marco Reus, Andre Schurrle and the evergreen Miroslav Klose. The Germans finally breached the Greek defence with a superb Philipp Lahm goal. The team conceded a silly goal against the run of play. Stung by the equaliser, the Germans lifted their play to a different level scoring three goals. This was the best the Germans had played in the tournament and looked as the only team which could possibly challenge the Spanish.
The semi-final was against old opponent Italy who had been reborn from the ashes of their disastrous World Cup campaign of 2010. Germany has never beaten Italy in a major tournament losing out on three occasions and drawing thrice in European competitions and World Cups. This time Germans were overwhelming favourites but there was always a sense of déjà vu against the Azzuri. The Germans started brightly with Gianluigi Buffon having to make some spectacular saves in the opening stages. Then Italy took control and Antonio Cassano easily got past the defence in the left wing to provide a perfect cross for Mario Balotelli to score. Balotelli scored a magnificent second goal to give the Italians a comfortable lead. The Germans tried their best to score an early goal in the second half but did not succeed and eventually scored off a penalty in injury time.
Tactics and Retrospection
The tactics of Joachim Löw were not under the scanner as the team was winning. His idea was simple – score goals by attacking play and if we concede goals we can score more. This idea was fine till they played a side with a good defence like Italy who do not concede goals easily. Of course there are days like the final when Italy concede four goals, but those are few and far between. Jerome Boateng, a centre-back being used as a full-back, was a major problem which was brutally exposed against Italy. Löw further got his team selection wrong against Italy. He was moving away from his attacking system which did not work.He selected Toni Kroos as a defensive measure against Andrea Pirlo. Kroos was deployed on the right side of midfield which was again not his normal position. Löw should introspect and understand that for a good team like Germany, reactive tactics and selections based on opponents’ strengths are not a most effective method. Germans should have played to their own strengths rather than worry about the strength of the opposition. The man who tactically decimated the English and the Argentines in the last World Cup, blundered in a very uncharacteristic manner. At the end it was just one match in which Germany was defeated and they can be reasonably pleased with their performance.
Stars and Looking Ahead
Löw has been retained by DFB (German Football Association) as the manager till the next World Cup. He should get his team selection correct. He has the advantage of having a large pool of young players. Mats Hummels was very good and his partnership with Holger Badstuber should continue for a long period, as both of them are only 23 years of age. The team needs to look at Jérôme Boateng’s role as a full-back which was not successful in the tournament. Philipp Lahm may need to play right-back as he does for Bayern and Marcel Schmelzer should be given an opportunity at left-back. Lars Bender can also be made right-back with Lahm continuing his left-back role. Lahm was more effective at right-back for his club than his role as left-back for the national team. Bastian Schweinsteiger was not his usual attacking self in this tournament although his injuries may have played a part. Germany could start using Kroos in his role more as is the practice at Bayern Munich. Podolski looked a shadow of the player he was and with young guns like Schurrle and Reus, impressing his days in the starting XI maybe numbered. Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira both had a good tournament and both being relatively young will figure a lot in the future. Mario Goetze, the German Messi, did not get too many opportunities but should feature more in the coming years. Germany has to look beyond Klose for a second striker as an alternative to Mario Gomez but they can also go the way of using a lot of their attacking midfielders as forwards. The future is looking bright as there is a large number of exciting young talents who will break through. It is all about the team selection and tactics which the Germans should concentrate on and the results will definitely be there.
Tactical Evolution at Euro 2012
With the UEFA Euro 2012 having drawn to a close, pundits decipher the new trends in football. While some tactical displays have caught the eyes and might just pave the way for future of football, some strategies simply did not work and will pass on like a fad. Debojyoti Chakraborty brings it all under one roof here
Azzurri turn the clock with a three-man backline
The Azzurri started the tournament with an abandoned 3-5-2 formation. Their three-central-defender ploy worked to an extent as they were able to hold on to a hard-fought draw against the mighty Spanish team. They must have been influenced by Juventas and Napoli, who deployed a pure three-back system successfully last season in Serie A. Suchwastheirinfluence, 16 otherteamshadexperimentedwiththisstrategysometimeorotherinthelastseason. Elsewhere, Barcelona also plays with a lop-sided 4-3-3 where Dani Alvez pushes further up the flank to make it similar to 3-4-3. Major criticism of this system has been its tactical deficiency especially playing against a solo forward. One of the central defenders marks the lone striker when another one covers him. The third member of the back trio now becomes redundant and hence the opponent gets a man advantage. This is exactly what happened when Spain had a focal point in attack in the form of Fernando Torres as he exploited the high line of Italy. Yet Cesare Prandelli used the system well as a shock element and bamboozled his opponents. It allowed the strikers to play further up the pitch and their interlinking with the advanced central midfielder duo became more dangerous. As the tournament went on, Prandelli reverted to a traditional back four but the opposition teams were always guessing which strategy they will be up against in the next match.
Three Lions deploy two banks of four
Roy Hodgson, the newly appointed England coach admitted before the tournament started that they do not quite belong to the group of big boys at this moment. Also, he made no secret of the fact that England lack a midfield maestro who can influence the game like an Andres Iniesta or Andrea Pirlo. So he thought, “If I cannot play a free flowing attacking game, let me stop the opponent from doing so.” In came the (in)famous Chelsea model – implement two rows of four men to counter the attacking threat of the opponent. To start with, it was a 4-4-1-1 but the midfielders dropped back without fail when England lost possession. The graphic blow was a regular occurrence for the Three Lions when the midfielders provided an extra shield to their defenders. The front men also tucked in as Hodgson was keen to keep the shape. No English player was caught offside in the group stages – a statistic which shows their lack of desire and ambition. This is a model which is used for smaller teams playing against more accomplished opponents, but they invariably get broken down due to superior skill of the stronger team or as the fatigue creeps in due to humongous work rate during the closing stages of the match. Once in a while, this defensive strategy might just work, but do not expect this system to appeal much to the football lovers.
German counter punch to the flavour of the season
With the beginning of this century, holding midfielders have grown in importance in world football. With the commencement of this decade, teams have started using two of them to counter attack threat of opposition and thus 4-2-3-1 seems to be a favoured option for most of the teams. Having two men anchoring the midfield in the form of destroyers frees up the full-backs to venture forward. It also allows the coaches having to find only one decent striker in the starting line-up as they have been an endangered species of late. Some teams look to play a midfield diamond but very rarely have we seen any team starting without a defensive midfielder. Joachim Löw figured out if he starts with two proper box-to-box midfielders, then it will be very difficult for the opponent to mark them. Thus if Samir Khedira lunges forward to join the likes of Mesut Ozil, Mario Gomez, Lucas Podolski et al, Bastian Schweinsteiger will stay back. If the opportunity comes, he can join the attack and Khedira will automatically drift back. This kind of strategy works brilliantly as the midfielders will have a roaming role and neither of them is being restricted to merely hold the fort.
I’ll have them all – La Espanyol style
Spain is undoubtedly the team of this generation, if not the greatest national team ever to have embraced the game. So powerful is their current squad that Vicente Del Bosque can easily field two teams against each other and it will be very difficult to say which team will emerge victorious. Well, Spain did use their squad depth to some extent when they had as many as six midfielders in their starting line-up. Playing Cesc Fabregas in a ‘false nine’ role was a decision tempted by the injury of David Villa, indifferent form of Fernando Torres and inexperience at the highest stage for others around. This was the toast of the season with all the teams baffled by this striker-less formation. It will be interesting to see if teams worldwide can reproduce this system – having a strong team where each player can play different roles will be a must – but Spain did come up with a master class as they went on to lift another major trophy with some ease.
Teams have become more fluid now. Micro Tactics, as they call it, defines the minutes of movements of a player during the course of any particular match. This may sound like making the game more mechanical which prevents the creative players from showcasing a moment of magic. Of course not! Top class players like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will roam around the pitch to influence the game as much as possible. But it will then be the responsibility of others around to fill in different roles to augment their main playmaker’s movement. This allows coaches to change shape during a match without bringing in any substitute. Sometimes this can be done to create an impact in the match – as Real Madrid tinkers around from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 – or to exploit any susceptible weakness of the opposition – as Joachim Löw assesses the match to shift from one formation to another. This is exactly how a football manager game is played – players will have a starting position but their role will keep on changing continuously.
Clash of Titans- Azzuri vs Die Mannschaft
Semi Final 2: Germany vs Italy
Thursday, 28 June 2012
21:45 (local time); 14:45(EST); 00:15(IST)
National Stadium, Warsaw
In the second semi finals of Euro 2012 two of the traditional superpowers of the game will clash in a mouth-watering encounter. The two teams last played in Euro 1988 group stages when the match finished in a 1-1 draw.
Germany will go into the match confident being the only team to have won all their matches in the tournament. Although Germany is up against history never having beaten Italy in seven previous competitive matches, Spain overcame a similar record against France in the quarter-finals and they will be looking to do the same. This German team has a mixture of experience and youth and have options in all positions and will give their best.
Italy has looked solid in this tournament. They were very good against Spain in arguably the best match in the tour5nament so far with respect to quality of the football played. The Italians have been surprisingly attacking instead of their defensive style. The only time they went into their defensive shell was during the second half against Croatia. They were very impressive against England in the quarter-finals creating a lot of chances but not converting. The Azzuri will be up for this encounter as they inevitably are in crunch matches in the knock-out phases of major tournaments.
Germany was impressive in their match against Greece playing attacking football trying to score at every opportunity. They conceded two goals, the second through a very debatable penalty. They controlled 70% of possession and showed their full attacking prowess after the Greek equaliser. The three new starters Klose, Schurrle and Reus impressed with their play. Gomez, Podolski and Muller will be fresh and rested and hungry to play in this game.
Italy looked very good against England in all areas of the game except finishing their chances. The Azzuri had a massive 35 shots on goal in 120 minutes and could not score. They outplayed their opponents with a fantastic performance by Andrea Pirlo who has been arguably the player of the tournament till now. The defence is typically solid and the fullbacks both joined up with the offensive line quite well. Italians had two days of rest less than the Germans which maybe a factor late in the game with a good change of the game going beyond 90 minutes.
Teams & Formations
Germany will go with their usual 4-2-3-1 formation which their manager Joachim Loew likes. The team has no suspensions to worry about. There have been questions on the condition of the ankle ligaments of Bastien Schweinsteiger but he should start. The German wide mid-fielders will look to press the Italian full-backs when they have possession preventing them from joining up in attack which will make the Italian mid-field very narrow. Podolski should come back in place of Schurrle who was a bit too predictable against Greece cutting inside from the left and shooting. Reus will probably retain his place ahead of Muller as he brought a lot of energy to the German mid-field. Sammy Khedira has been making very good runs from the deep in this tournament very similar to what Schweinsteiger usually does. The latter’s ankle ligaments maybe are the reason for his not producing such runs. Mesut Ozil was very impressive against Greece with his movement and passing and he created two goals in the process. The big choice Loew has to make is Gomez or Klose who to start? He may opt for Gomez as he will be rested and raring to go.
Germany(4-2-3-1): Manuel Neuer; Jerome Boateng; Mats Hummels; Philipp Lahm; Sammy Khedira; Bastien Schweinsteiger; Marco Reus ; Mesul Ozil; Lukas Podolski; Mario Gomez
Manager: Joachim Loew
Italy (4-1-3-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Ignazio Abate; Andrea Barzagli; Leonardo Bonucci; Federico Balzaretti; Andrea Pirlo; Claudio Marchisio; Thiago Motta; Daniele De Rossi; Mario Balotelli; Antonio Cassano
Manager: Cesare Prandelli
Referee: Stephane Lannoy (France)
Italy has played good football in this tournament. They are surprisingly the team with most attempts on goal with 87. The manager Cesare Prandelli started the first two matches of the tournament with a 3-5-2 formation. After two identical 1-1 score-lines he went back to his favoured 4-1-3-2 formation. Andrea Pirlo is the lynchpin of this team and he has been sensational. Maggio is suspended for this game but it does not affect the starting eleven too much. Thiago Motta who was injured for the last match may play in place of Montolivo to contain the attacking threat of the German mid-field. Daniele de Rossi has been affected by sciatica but should start. The Italian forwards have not scored enough and that is the reason they have won only one match in regular time in the tournament. Balotelli is an enigma who gets into great position and then gets cold feet. Cassano has been very impressive working hard and creating a lot of chances. The Italians will have to score goals otherwise their dream for a second Euro title will be over.
“We did well against Greece but Italy are a different proposition,” –Joachim Loew German Manager
“We are quite a bit short because we only have very few days of recovery time. We need to put out a side that’s athletically fit, because we will have to fight against Germany. If we play well, though, we have a chance. There is no such thing as an invincible side. Spain and Germany are truly very good, but we just need to stick to our task, and we must be meticulously prepared.” –Cesare Prandelli Italian Manager
‘Super Mario’ pushes Oranje to the brink of elimination
Germany 2- 1 Netherlands
Mario Gomez (1-0); Mario Gomez (2-0); Robin Van Persie (2-1)
Considered the most mouth-watering contest in the group stages by many did not live up to the expectations. There was only one team in the contest and apart for a few minutes in the second half the result was never in doubt. Bert Van Marwjik surprisingly started with nearly the same team and the same formation which had lost to Denmark in the previous match. The now fit Joris Mathjisen came into the defence in place of Ron Vlaar which was expected. Rafel Van der Vaart and Klas Jan-Huntelaar were surprising omissions from the starting line-up. The manager seemed to have faith in the team which created a lot but finished nothing in their last match. Joachim Loew did not change his team and went with the same team and formation. He may have been tempted to change a few players in the mid-field and forward line but wanted to stick with a winning team. Germans lacked their usual panache in the last match which has become synonymous with the current team. This match would give a real indication of their tournament winning credentials.
Netherlands made the better start in a very warm evening at Kharkiv in front of nearly 38,000 spectators. Mathjisen hit a through ball which reached a stretching Van Persie who could only turn into the hands of Manuel Neuer in the 7th minute. In the 11th minute Arjen Robben made a sharp run through the centre passed a ball to Van Persie on the right side of the box, but his right footed shot went well wide of the opposition goal. In between the two Dutch chances the Germans had shown their intent when an exquisite volley by Mesut Ozil crashed against the post in the 8th minute. Netherlands was having a lot of possession but Germany was looking incisive on the break. In the 24th minute Ozil received a ball on the right flank. Nigel de Jong was tracking him. The other Dutch defensive midfielder Marc Van Bommel was marking the run of Sami Khedira. This left Bastien Schweinsteiger with a lot of space in the middle when Ozil passed the ball to him. He threaded a superb pass which was collected by Mario Gomez with his back to the Dutch goal. He received the ball and turned with a pirouette all in a single movement which left him with an easy finish past the helpless Dutch keeper Stekelenburg. Robben attempted a shot from the right which was easily saved by Neuer. The Dutch attacks were being snuffed out by the brilliant play by the German back line that pressed and marked magnificently. Robben tried his typical runs through the right wing but was beautifully stopped time and again by the German captain Philipp Lahm. Germans were finding a lot of joy through the right wing where Thomas Muller was giving the inexperienced Dutch left back Jetro Willems a torrid time. Muller nearly found Gomez with a cross in the 30th minute. In the 37th minute Germany should have gone further ahead when an unmarked Holger Badstuber found himself at the end of an Ozil free-kick. His header from close range was saved brilliantly by Stekelenburg. The very next minute the Germans were two ahead. It was the same combination with Schweinsteiger from a central area passing to Gomez on the right side of the Dutch box. He opened his body and hit a swerving left footer past the outstretched arms of the goalkeeper. It could have been worse for the Dutch if Stekelenburg had not saved a deflected free kick on the stroke of the half-time whistle.
Van Marwjik rang in the changes at the start of the second half with Van der Vaart and Huntelaar coming in for Van Bommel and a very poor Ibrahim Afelley. Netherlands were dominating possession 58-42 at this point but it was not very constructive with respect to chances in the opposition box. It was Germany who came close to scoring again in the 52nd minute when Mats Hummels ran through the centre of the Dutch defence and took a shot which was saved by the goalkeeper. The rebound fell to him and he hit another shot on target as but the goalkeeper thwarted him again. The Dutch midfield play had improved but they were still not creating any chances. In the 58th Robben, who had switched to left wing managed to find Van Persie on the edge of the German penalty area with a pull-back pass. Van Persie’s snap shot to the right of Neuer forced him to a great save. Netherlands was starting to find some potency to their play in the opposition third. Sneijder and Robben both had good chances which they put wide in the 62nd and 69th minute respectively. Sneijder looked to have scored in the 71st minute when he took a shot from the left of the German penalty area with Neuer beaten. Jerome Boateng flung his body on the way to make a great block. Germany brought in Miroslav Klose for Gomez in the 72nd minute. In the 73rd minute Van Persie managed to turn Hummels in the middle of the German half and ran on through the centre and took a great right footer which beat Neuer to his left before nestling into the back of the net. The Dutch were back in the contest. The Germans were tiring in the extreme heat. However they took control of possession and did not allow the Dutch much further leeway for the rest of the match.
Germany deserved to win as they were the superior side who created better chances and looked more incisive in their play. Loew’s confidence in his team especially the Bayern Munich contingent paid dividends as their superior team play and understanding managed to overcome the Dutch. Jerome Boateng picked up a second yellow card and will miss the next match against Denmark. Loew may have to play Lars Bender at right back. He can also move Lahm into right back and play Marcel Schmelzer at left back. Germany can still be eliminated if the results go against them in the last round of matches. However looking into their two matches especially the second one they will start favourites for the win against Denmark. Netherlands still have a slim chance of qualification and will have to win with a big margin against Portugal and hope that Germany defeat Denmark. Van Marwjik will have to look into his tactics. He should start with two strikers in Van Persie and Huntelaar although the latter did not have any constructive contribution during his time on the field. Van Persie seems to getting back his touch which bodes well for them. The defensive midfielders will have to play better as they were ruthlessly exposed by a very fluid and flexible German midfield. Hope is still there to qualify a however slim one. The Group of Death has lived up to its billing and it is all to play for going into the last round of matches.
Germany: Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Holger Badstuber, Philipp Lahm, Sami Khedira, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Muller (Lars Bender 90+2), Mesult Ozil (Toni Kroos 81), Lukas Podolski, Mario Gomez (Miroslav Klose 72)
Netherlands: Maarten Stekelenburg, Gregory Van der Wiel, John Heitinga, Joris Mathijsen, Jetro Willems, Nigel de Jong, Mark Van Bommel (Rafael Van der Vaart 45), Arjen Robben (Dirk Kuyt 83), Wesley Sneijder, Ibrahim Afellay (Klaas-Jan Huntelaar 45), Robin Van Persie.
Referee: Jonas Eriksson (Sweden)
Venue: Metalist Stadium.
“With this victory I think we’ve opened the door to the quarter-finals. It’s now in our hands”-Joachim Loew German Manager
“The situation is that we still have a chance to go through and when you have a chance you have to believe”-Bert Van Marwjik Netherlands Manager.
A Sneak Peek: Stars of UEFA Euro 2012 Group B
We continue our build-up to the Euro 2012 with the rising stars of Group B. Kinshuk Biswas profiles them
In this feature we bring you some of the players who have the potential to become stars in Poland and Ukraine. We begun with Group A and now move on to Group B.
Name: Christian Eriksen
Age: 20 (14.02.1992)
Club: Denmark 2008 – Present
Position: Attacking Midfielder
National Caps (Goals): 21 (2)
Current Market Value: € 13,000,000
Christian Eriksen is one of the most exciting young talents in Europe. Though deployed in the attacking midfield position in his club as well as for his national team, he is being hailed as the complete midfielder by the pundits. He has great vision to pick up a fellow player, good passing and dribbling skills to open up defences as well as a thunderbolt of his own. He has made a meteoric progress so far in his short career and has already notched up the coveted Danish Football Player of the Year award in 2011. Under coach Morten Olsen he has been a regular in the first XI and quite an influential player at that with his recent performances. This year in the Eredivisie he has made an astonishing 18 assists over and above netting seven. The little playmaker has drawn attention from European giants but he remains committed to Ajax for his professional development so far. So far, that is.
Name: Mario Götze
Age: 19 (03.06.1992)
Club: Borussia Dortmund 2009 – Present
Position: Attacking Midfielder / Winger
National Caps (Goals): 12 (2)
Current market Value: € 30,000,000
Mario Götze, a promising German midfielder, is a product of the Dortmund youth system. Competent in either flank, as well as through the middle, Götze has done well through various age groups and made his senior international debut at a tender age of 18. That came on the back of his impressive 2010-11 club season when he was an integral part of the Bundesliga winning team. He is pacy, full of trickery and is helped by the fact that he is naturally two-footed. His growing influence in the international stages – he started the 2011-12 campaign by scoring back-to-back goals for the national name – will see him as one of the (if not the) youngest player in Euro 2012. He is yet to cement his place in the starting XI and is likely to be used as an impact player given the riches of wealth in the midfield for the Die Mannschaft.
Name: Kevin Strootman
Age: 22 (13.02.1990)
Club: PSV Eindhoven 2011 – Present
Position: Central Midfielder
National Caps (Goals): 10 (1)
Current market Value: € 8,000,000
Kevin Strootman was plying his trade in the second tier of Dutch league two years back. The tall, deep-lying playmaker has made a rapid progress since and is now a well established international player. In the qualification stages he has made five appearances with 2 assists and a fine goal against Finland. Overall a technically sound player, he can lock horns with his more illustrious counterparts. For the Orange he is the fulcrum of the midfield just as he is for his club Eindhoven. Besides anchoring the midfield and winning balls in a 50:50 duel due to his strong physical presence, Strootman has great vision, is an astute passer of the ball and often dictates the tempo of the match. He is also a dead ball specialist on virtue of a deadly left foot. An all round player, Strootman is more of a box-to-box midfielder who will like to announce himself in the Euro 2012 in a grand fashion.
Name: Fábio Coentrão
Age: 24 (11.03.1988)
Club: Real Madrid 2011 – Present
Position: Wing-back/ Midfielder
National Caps (Goals): 19 (1)
Current market Value: € 24,000,000
Fábio Coentrão is a natural left flank player who has established himself in the Portugal first XI for quite some time now. Still only 24, he is a relative greenhorn for a defender, and Euro 2012 will be a great platform for him to continue his fine showing at the World Cup 2010. He is a natural dribbler, likes to be involved in a short passing game and is very good with the ball in his feet. His stop-start career at Benfica finally blossomed at Real Madrid. He is given more of a defending role and has shone brilliantly there. Coentrão is also quite multi-dimensional as he can be slotted in the midfield – either in the left side or as a defensive shield – and it would give Portugal the added flexibility to change their shape and tactics during a game. Challenge for him will be to use his trademark maundering runs down the left flank to his advantage without being exposed defensively.
Fritz Walter : A Footballing Grandmaster
His name was Friedrich “Fritz” Walter, the best player Germany produced until Franz Beckenbauer and there are more people than you would consider who would still place him above ‘Kaiser’. A brilliant tribute from Nibaron Chakraborty
In the early hours of a Sunday morning, a lean well built man is standing on the balcony of a hotel, overlooking the Lake Thun. The lake is calm and the first rays of the sun rising over the foothill of Alps, lighting it up in a reddish-golden tinge, promising that the day is going to be pleasant and beautiful.
Clearly looking dismayed, he goes back to his room and lies down. At nine o’clock, he is out again in the balcony, now the sun is effusively up.
At lunchtime around half past twelve, his brother stormed down the corridor of the hotel, shouting, “It’s raining! It’s raining.. !” Visibly surprised, he ran down to his hotel balcony. It was indeed raining. Big grey clouds had gathered over the lake and the raindrops promised wind, cold and mud. “Now nothing can go wrong”, he grinned.
In two and half hours, he and his mates, will be playing a game of football, against the best team in the world, who had humiliated them just a few days ago. In little more than 5 hours, he and his friends will be living legends and literally will liberate their fellow countrymen from all their burdens and guilt, after World War II.
It was July 4, 1954. His name was Friedrich “Fritz” Walter, the best player Germany produced until Franz Beckenbauer – and there are more people than you would consider, who would still place him above ‘Kaiser’.
Friedrich Walter was born on October 31, 1920, in Kaiserslautern, remote and backward area of Pfalz, which is 65 km of Mannheim, home town of national coach, Sepp Herberger. Walter’s father worked as a lorry driver until an accident cost him an eye. He opened up a restaurant in his hometown, before he spent some time in the USA, but returned home before World War I, and married a woman from Berlin.
Fritz, Ottmer and Ludwig (his two younger brothers) lived in the proximity of two boys called Ernst and Werner Liebrich. All of them were suffering from an English disease called football, and in the near future they all would play for FC Kaiserslautern and four of them would go to win the World Cup for their country. By 1928, Walter had joined the Kaiserslautern youth academy and made his first team debut at 17.
War, Football and Debut
Before being called up into the national side, Walter got his share of a World War. He was drafted into the army in the 1940’s, when things got severe on the fronts. At that time, Germany’s so called clean and swift war machine started to show some signs of rust and waning. More men were needed on the front, footballers were no exception.
Walter the soldier or paratrooper marched or flew across France, Corsica, Sardinia, Romania and many other places during the following years, but before that, he made his international debut in July 1940, against Romania. He scored 3 goals, playing as a forward in a relatively easy 9-3 victory. National coach Sepp Herberber was immensely impressed, and soon Walter would become his favourite player, in fact he liked him as his surrogate son. “I’m happy Fritz, you can come and play for your country again.” told Herberger. That sure was easier said than done.
In those chaotic times, until late 1942 (when everything collapsed), Herberger tried every trick in the book to get his young players from the mortal dangers of the front and back to the shelter and safety of a football ground. Incredibly he succeeded, and in those times German national team played another 25 matches, Walter only missed two of them.
Most of the matches during the war were worthless games, either allies or occupied countries, with two exceptions. In April 1941, in Koln, a magnificent German team unexpectedly beat Hungary, 7-0. In the return match, Budapest, May 1942, the Magyars playing for their pride, led 3-1 at halftime thoroughly dominating their opponents. “Don’t let this become a catastrophe”, Herberger was worried, he knew humiliation of any kind on foreign soil would not go well with the Nazi commands in Berlin. The second half was a different story though; led by a young Fritz Walter, the Germans managed to fight back, eventually winning 5-3.
3 years later, his performance in this match would save Walter’s life. 12 years later, memories from this match helped him win the World Cup.
All international matches were suspended when Goebbels declared the country to be in total war. Herberger was out of a job and the entire nation was waiting for the inevitable. However, local leagues were still on, as some newspapers pointed out, “Sporting competitions to be carried through in order to sustain the work ethic”, but things were farcical to say the least.
Meanwhile, Walter joined the Red Fighter Pilots in 1943. They were an Air force football team, founded by Major Graf, a war hero and an ex-goalie. Given the circumstances, he had spent 1943 and 1944 in relative safety. Russian offensive signalled the end of the team in January 1945.
In April 30, 1945, Adolf Hitler shot himself. The day before Hamburg won the last official football match played during wartime, against Altona 1942. A week later, Germany capitulated.
The entire team of Red Fighter Pilots were taken prisoners together by the Russians. Everybody preferred to be captured by the US troops, rather than the Russians, but that was not going to be the case for Walter. It meant Siberia, and a near certain agonising death. However, during the march towards the Siberian Gulag, he kept his eyes open for some football, if possible.
One day, in a Ukrainian War Camp, he played one of the most important football matches of his life – Prisoners vs Camp Guards. At half time, one of the Hungarian guards recollected the memories of May 1942, and came down to ask him, “I think I know you” he said, “I was there in 1942. I have seen you play against us. Hungary lost 3-5”. The next day, Walters’ name was strangely removed from the prisoners list to be sent to Siberia. He returned to his home town in late 1945. Being a famous footballer saved his life, but not many people were that lucky.
Hours after West Germany’s first post-war game against Switzerland in the 1950, representatives of a French club FC Nancy, met Walter and offered DM 100,000 for his signature. A year later, Helenio Herrera, in charge of Atletico Madrid, negotiated with Fritz Walter. He offered DM 225,000, but in both the cases, the player declined the offers.
That was partly because their club and particularly, the national coach, somehow found ways of giving him at least some kind of financial security and stability. He was granted a loan so that he could start a cinema and laundry and that guaranteed him a good life in 1950’s West Germany. Another reason for the player’s disinclination was that, they knew that they would never again play for their country, as professionalism was a strict no-no at that point of time, in West Germany.
Walter inspired Kaiserslautern to win German Championships in 1951 and 1953. The side became known as ‘Walter’s 11’ in recognition of its most outstanding player.
World Cup 1954
West Germany had not been allowed to play in the 1950 tournament but they qualified for the 1954 tournament, first FIFA World Cup in Europe since the end of the war. Competing in the WC was indeed a proud moment for them, but challenging for it, was like unthinkable for the Germans as the international scene was dominated at the time by the apparently invincible Hungarians, who arrived at Switzerland as runaway favourites after a four-year undefeated spell. A wager on the ‘Magical Magyars’ and their mystical captain Ferenc Puskas looked like a safe one for the 1954 tournament.
Germany defeated Turkey 4-1 after going down 1-0; humbled by the Mighty Magyars 3-8, needed a playoff match against Turkey. Walter shone in the 7-2 rout, and again as the Germans beat a strong Yugoslavian side 2-0 in the quarter finals. The captain buried two penalties in the 6-1 semi-final victory over Austria to set the stage for a re-match with the mighty Hungarians in Berne’s Wankdorf Stadium.
Miracle of Bern
July 4, 1954. 8 minutes gone into the final, Fritz Walter stood on the half way line, staring at the ground, amidst the rain. West Germany trailed the favourites, 2-0.
Walter was not the same man after the World War. His football instincts were intact but he was moody, sensitive and prone to self doubt. Anything would throw him off balance; bad refereeing decisions, critical remark and specially the weather. Ever since he caught malaria during his wartime marches, he was ineffective on hot sunny days. But he loved rain, and a steady downpour is still called “Fritz Walter “weather in Germany.
Walter was desperately trying to think about the game in May 1942, when his team came back from 3-1 down, against the same opponents. And somehow, like that match West Germany recovered quickly. Two minutes later, Max Morlock poked the ball past Grosics to make it 2-1, as the Germans slowly controlled the tempo of that game. Quarter of an hour gone, Max Morlock dribbled past 3 defenders and earned a corner. Helmut “Der Boss” Rahn volleyed the ball into the net. 2-2 it was.
The first 15 minutes after the interval The Magyars dominated, denied multiple times by Tony Turek (goal keeper) and the crossbar. Somehow, Hungarians lost some faith after that incident as the match again opened up from a neutral perspective.
Six minutes left to play, “Schafer sends a cross into the box” – Herbert Zimmermann reported, he was doing commentary for the West German Radio. “Header… Cleared”….. The Ball falls to Rahn who fakes to shoot with his right foot, turns, and strikes it with his left… Grosics is not going to reach it… Zimmermann cried in the radio “Rahn Schiest…….. Tor ! Tor ! Tor ! Tor !..” “Germany Leads 3-2.. Call me mad, call me crazy.”
It was an unlikely and inspiring upset, one that had ramifications far beyond the world of sport. It marked the beginning of a new Germany, restoring national self-belief after the horrors of conflict and inspiring a new determination the length and breadth of the land. It was a kind of liberation for the Germans from all their burdens after World War II.
Walter became the first footballer ever to earn the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, the highest honour in a long list of decorations. Years later, Walter would still grow emotional when he recalled the events of 1954. As a tribute to him on his 80th birthday, German television showed the 54’ final. Walter wept: “I still have goose-bumps watching it.”
After the World Cup and Retirement
Walter retired from the international football in 1956. He had a soft corner in his heart for Hungary and after the crackdown by the Soviets of the Hungarian uprising, the Hungarian football team were caught away from home, and for two years, Fritz managed their games and provided the financial backing, and in small measure, paid them back for having saved his life.
He made a comeback as Herberger persuaded him to come back for 1958 World Cup hosted by Sweden. He was 37, and hadn’t played for the national team for at least two years. Germany struggled up to the semi-finals where they were beaten by the host nation in controversial circumstances. That was the last international match Walter played, ending his international career with 61 caps and 33 goals.
In 1959, he left league football as well, having played 379 times for Kaiserslautern, and having scored 306 goals. As a player, he was ahead of his time – an attacking midfielder before midfield had even been invented.
Later life and Legacy
Fritz Walter was named an honorary captain of the German football squad in 1958. The other four are Uwe Seeler, Franz Beckenbauer, Lothar Matthias and Bettina Wiegmann.
Since 1965, he was living in Alsenborn, a small village near Kaiserslautern and sensationally taken their local team within one point of being promoted to Bundesliga. After that, Walter turned his back on coaching and management, shifting to a completely new career. He worked with offenders, helping them to get back to their normal lives after leaving prison. Manfred von Richthofen, president of the German Sports Federation, said: “Fritz Walter was a symbol of German sport in the post-war era. A man with marvellous abilities on the field, he was also engaged in social goals later in life. That has made him a model for future generations of sportsmen and women.”
In 1985, still in the player’s lifetime, the Betzenberg Stadium in Kaiserslautern was renamed after him. He said his last wish in life was to watch a game at the 2006 World Cup in the ground that bore his name. But his beloved wife Italia had died earlier that year, and he never got over the loss. At 2:14 on June 17, Fritz Walter, the true icon of German Football, left for his heavenly abode.
Four days later, Germany played USA wearing black armbands, on the following Sunday. 10,000 mourners were present for the funeral service, among them Gyula Grosics and Jeno Buzansky, members of the 1954 Hungary Team.
Four years later, on his death anniversary, USA met Italy in a World Cup match at “Fritz Walter Stadion”, and a minute of silence was observed in his memory. People of Alsenborn later built a small museum named “Fritz Walter Haus” in memory of their favourite footballing son.