World Cup – Cracking The Winning Formula
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.
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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