Friday, 25 May 2012

Euro 2012: Could Germany become the new Holland?

Being an assessment of Germany's prospects of winning Euro 2012.

It is fair to say that German international football has undergone a transformation.  After having entertained many neutrals in the 2010 World Cup it has become de riguer to regard Joachim Löw’s group of talented young footballers as the successors to Spain and become the next European Champions. However, unless they can start delivering trophies, It is possible that they become the known as new Holland from the 1970s. Fantastic to watch but ultimately unsuccessful.

I’m not about the make a comparison between the Dutch team that exemplified Total Football but failed in the '74 and '78 World Cup Finals and this current German team that finished as runners up in 2008 and third in 2010. However, as we try to find a narrative amidst the chaos that is football, it is perhaps understandable to be preoccupied with the idea that, just like Holland, the most entertaining international football team of the current age may leave the stage with nothing but good wishes.

Germany’s biggest strength is in its midfield. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira offer the perfect balance of creativity, composure and enforcement. With the lines between midfield and attack increasingly blurred it is difficult to know where one ends and the other begins. Toni Kroos, Thomas Müller, Lukas Podolski and André Schürrle offer quick and incisive transition plus plenty of bullets for the striker. Recent additions to the squad, in this area have been the two Borussia Dortmund attackers Mario Götze and Marco Reus (formerly of Borussia Mönchengladbach) who have broken through in the last season and bring immense talent and imagination.

Götze, at nineteen, was a phenomenon, last season. He is fully expected to rival Lionel Messi as one of the best attacking players in the world. This season, injury has hampered his progress somewhat but followers of the national team are hopeful that he will have a breakthrough tournament in the Summer. Reus is slightly older but has been majestic in ‘Gladbach’s sensational rise to the top four of the Bundesliga. His superb form leaves Löw with a vast array of attacking options and if he can get the right mix, neutrals are in for a real treat. It is in this area of the field that Germany are most likely win Euro 2012 in that same way that Spain won in 2008.

The spearhead of the attack will presumably be lead by the Bayern Munich striker, Mario Gomez who has scored a mammoth 41 goals in 51 games in all competitions, last season. However, despite his record, doubts persist about his big game qualities. His critics point to disappointing performances in international tournaments and perhaps more pertinently, his poor showing in the Champions League Final defeat against Chelsea. I’m not convinced by the term “big game bottler” that is levelled at players like Gomez and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The concept is tied to psychology and there is no way of making a considered evaluation of a player’s ability to manage pressure situations without performing a full evaluation which most football commentators are incapable of doing. Given his record, Löw would be a lunatic to not pick Gomez and if he doesn’t work out? Well there is always, Miroslav Klose.

The Polish born former Werder Bremen and Bayern striker has an exemplary international record. The Lazio striker is in decent nick, scoring 16 goals in 33 games, last season. Klose has been used sparingly in 2012 for the national team and the Stuttgart striker, Cacau is on hand as a further reserve. In an ideal world however, Germany’s prospects are greatly enhanced with a fully functioning Gomez.

At the back, few will argue that Manuel Neuer is the Number 1 choice goalkeeper among a field of high quality custodians. However, fewer still will argue that the centre of defence is a crucial area and in Mats Hummels and Holger Badstuber, Germany have two outstanding centre backs. The latter has a tendency to the odd aberration but the former has been almost flawless for Borussia Dortmund for the last two seasons. They both lack experience and it is possible that Löw may prefer to have Arsenal’s Per Mertesacker return from injury. This may surprise many who have seen him play  but his experience on the international stage will be invaluable.

The full backs will probably be Benedikt Höwedes of Schalke and the captain Philipp Lahm of Bayern Munich. It is also likely the Jerome Boateng, also of Bayern will feature. Lahm remains one of the best in the world at his job. Howedes is a real talent but like Hummels and Badstuber, lacks experience.

Therein lays the German’s weakness or their biggest strength. The back four has the ability to stop anything that comes their way but they may need more time and to learn and gel as a unit. On the other hand they may be ready for the challenge that awaits them. If so then Germany has every chance of wrestling the title from Spain.

All that really remains is the ineffable quality that is the will to win. Germany have come pretty close to winning their first title since Euro 96 but have failed. The general consensus is that they have rebuilt themselves from the efficient but dour team that won stuff to the swashbuckling entertainers that enter Euro 2012 as favourites. But the worry (from German point of view of course) is that the recent disappointments in 2010 and 2008 will have a negative effect and somehow prevent them from doing what is necessary to win.

There is also the possibility that the crushing disaster for the many Bayern Munich players will affect the morale of the squad and cause influential players like Schweinsteiger, Lahm and Gomez to underperform. This seems unlikely given the professionalism of the players but it does remain a possibility.

More realistically however, the biggest obstacle in Germany’s path to glory will not be laid by themselves but by the other teams in the tournament. Nevertheless, Germany have the players and the balance right and are well equipped to overcome any obstructions. All that remains is for them to actually get out there and do it.

You can see a full list of the players selected for Germany's preliminary squad here.