Germany. Beer. The two words go together. This ain’t stereotyping. There’s a relevant story.
It was Euro 2012. Warsaw was the place. Germany had just been knocked out of the competition by Italy. Manager Joachim Löw was speaking at the post-match press conference. And speaking some more. Then more.
UEFA, which runs the Euro, has this rule. In the media centre, no beer can be served to the journalists until the last press conference ends. As Löw spoke, a small group gathered near where the beer was located. It grew larger as Löw spoke longer. Then it grew angry. Even the German journalists were fed-up. One shouted at the TV airing the press conference. His shout was then cheered by fellow Germans.
What the shouter said was “We lost! Now shut up. The better team won.”
This is relevant because Germany lost that night due as much to cockiness as Mario Balotelli’s two splendid goals. (The second was the one that caused him to tear off his shirt and glare at the world, muscled, mad with pride.) There was no Plan B once the team went behind. That’s why Löw kept talking, meandering through excuses.
Germany wants to win this World Cup. It has intended to win the World Cup since the Wall came down; it stopped being “West Germany” and became a united nation again. A bigger pool of talent, for a start, but also a point to prove about the new Germany – multi-cultural, open and sophisticated.
The team embodies the new Germany, emphatically represents it in every possible way. It’s the country’s crucible of complexities and confidence. German Chancellor Angela Merkel knows this. She ‘s a soccer fan, a real one, knowledgeable and thoughtful about the game. And never misses an opportunity to be photographed with the team, preferably in their locker room. She made the journey to Brazil to see her country’s team thrash Portugal 4-0. And was duly photographed, beaming, with her boys in their dressing room.
All easily understood. The reason why it all matters. And Germany is close to being the best European team here.
Yet it’s not perfect, as Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Ghana proved. For all their vaunted speed and athleticism, for all the fast link-up play (so symbolic for Germany) it was exposed in its tactical naiveté and failure to fully own acres of space on the field. Under pressure it tends to wilt a little.
Time after time, Mesut Özil was getting behind the Ghana defence and cutting the ball back, creating chances. Ozil is the sort of player whom you feel is more clever than his teammates. His vision, ability to see openings in advance of a pass, is extraordinary. That vision is Germany’s Plan A.
It seems there still isn’t a Plan B because, losing 1-2 with twenty minutes remaining, Löw decided to put the veteran, 36-year-old Miroslav Klose on the field. It worked. He scored with his first touch, a fine stab at the ball from a corner kick. His acrobatics in celebration did not look like those of a 36-year-old veteran, but that’s what he is and it was a gamble by Löw that had a fortuitous ending.
A team more ruthless and less wasteful than Ghana can beat Germany. Anyone watching this World Cup knows that now. Ghana came close to winning it several times.
Thrown into the true “Group if Death” here, Germany must now win against USA, a team that’s hard to beat and is managed by Germany’s own former manager and icon, Jürgen Klinsmann, in Recife next Thursday. That will be a tough and testy game, loaded with meaning thanks to the Klinsmann connection.
This should be Germany’s hour to become world champions. When the country hosted the World Cup in 2006 the feeling was hat the national team was excellent, but young. The World Cup was happening in Germany about three or four years before the group of players would be at their peak, their best.
At the World Cup in 2010, in South Africa, Germany was, in truth, unlucky to lose 0-1 to Spain the semi-final, a game in which Spain had failed to impose its short-passing, tiki-taka style with true authority.
This World Cup, a great one so far, and made better by Germany’s attacking flair, might be the one that comes a few years too late. There is will and there is talent and cockiness, but a better team than Ghana can beat Germany. You can bet all the beer in Germany on that.