World Cup – Cracking The Winning Formula

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.

Germany-v-Argentina-2014-FIFA-World-Cup-Brazil-Final (1)

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.

Players Average Pass Length (m) Accuracy (%)
Kroos 20 90
Lahm 17 91
Schweinsteiger 17 89
Khedira 16 85

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.

Germany with Lahm as the midfield anchorman
Germany with Lahm as the midfield anchorman

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.

Germany with a more direct approach
Germany with a more direct approach

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

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.

Bright Start

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.

He needs introspection

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.

Mats Hummels:a new star

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.

Marco Reus with Mario Goetze