When the German National Anthem played out before the Final, I remembered the first time I remember hearing the smooth Anthem of Die Manschhaft, back before the Final of EURO ’08, when they played, and were filleted by Spain. Spain was just entering its Golden Generation, they were about to revolutionize the sport. For all that came out of that seminal win for the Spanish, the possession numbers weren’t that ridiculous. Spain played fast and loose, they attacked more directly than people remember. They weren’t the team they were in 2010 yet, when they seemed to drain the life out of opponents. They were still brilliant though. They won 1-0 off the strength of a great individual goal by Fernando Torres. The German coach that day was Joachim Low, in his first major tournament in charge. The German team that day mostly comprised of the same players that starred for Germany’s surprising run to the 2006 World Cup Semis, played in Germany. The names were familiar. Ballack, Klose, Podolski, Metzelder, Frings, Lehmann. But added to those were a few new names, like Lahm, who had grown a lot in two years, or Schweinsteiger, who burst onto the scene in that tournament. Spain’s dynasty started that day, but so did Germany’s march to the 2014 World Cup. It just took a bit longer.
Germany’s recent success at Major Tournaments is astounding. They’ve gone Semis-Finalist-Semis-Semis-Champion at the last five from the 2006 World Cup to the 2014 World Cup. They’ve been deep in all, but it was only the last three where there was real expectations. That’s when Thomas Muller was discovered, when Mesut Ozil was placed into the lineup, when Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng were put in Central Defense, and when the Polish Duo of strikers were being slowly phased in and out. They lost the 2010 World Cup Semifinal to Spain and then were shocked in the Euro ’12 Semis by Italy (who pretty much owns Germany in major tournaments) but you could see the team getting better and better and better. It wasn’t a question of ‘If?’ but ‘When?’, and that answer is right now.
The two players that combined to score the World Cup winning goal, Andre Schurrle and Mario Goetze, are 23 and 22. They were 15 and 14 when Germany hosted the World Cup, and 17 and 16 when they lost the Euro Final. They grew up in a Germany that was changing the way it played football, to add more fluidity and possession to its ruthful, tactical brilliance that had defined the country’s National Team for (very successful) decades. Jurgen Klinsmann started this process, but Joachim Low spearheaded it forward and perfected it. They had a concerted, country-wide effort to raise kids to play a certain way. The scariest part, though, is Schurrle and Goetze are just two of a long pipeline, many of whom haven’t even arrived yet. Germany will be good for a long time. Even scarier is that they aren’t relying on generational talents to make their system hum like Spain was in Xavi and Iniesta. No, these are just a collection of very good players. None brilliant, but all good enough to be a dominant team.
Germany isn’t boring anymore. They might never be again. They’ve found this recipe that works so well, and have drilled it into perfection. It is using the possession principles of Spain to have a fluid midfield, with the size and speed that Germany has always had to have a ‘Plan B’ if possession isn’t working, something Spain has really missed really since 2008. Of course it helps to have a roster full of stars, and people like Miroslav Klose who is ageless and Thomas Muller who is Klose’s heir in World Cup scoring records. But it also helps to have consistency and compatibility. Seven German Players who suited up for the final (including the injured Sami Khedira) were on the field in the 2010 Semifinal, including Neuer, Muller, Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Boateng, Ozil and Klose. Goetze and Hummels were both on the team for Euro 2012. Now, Klose definitely won’t be there in four years time, and Schweinsteiger and Lahm are 50/50, but the rest should all be there. They have a youth that the World Cup winner hasn’t had since maybe France in 1998. They should have a staying power that should last a while.
Football never works that way, though. Only two times has a team repeated as World Cup Champions, with Italy going back-to-back in 1934 & 1938, and Brazil doing it in 1958 & 1962. Only on two other occasions has the defending Champ made it back to the Final (Argentina in 1990 and Brazil in 1998). Four years is a long time. There will likely be 3-4 players who have large impacts on the 2018 World Cup that barely anyone knows right now, like James Rodriguez was for this World Cup. But who is going to stop them? Spain is probably more than 4 years away from rebuilding to what it once was. Italy is losing Pirlo. France is possible if they unearth a few more good players and they are likely the main European Challenger. The answer might just be in the team that Germany drubbed 7-1.
Brazil started this tournament with what seems to have been a very ominous win. They beat Croatia 3-1, but they gave up the first goal in a David Luiz own-goal, and needed Neymar plus some refereeing luck to bail them out. Brazil was criticized after that first match despite the 3-1 win and they never, outside of the game against minnows Cameroon and the 1st half against Colombia, looked like a confident team. They did play like an energized team, but that energy was turned against them against Germany. Still, Brazil has talent, but more than that they have young talent. Neymar should be better, and hopefully less injured, in 2018. Oscar should be better. David Luiz and Tiago Silva should still be there. The 2018 Brazil should be a good side. They have, just looking four years out from now, the best projected Starting XI outside of Germany and maybe France.
Still, it won’t remove what happened last week to Brazil. It does slightly obscure what was an awesome tournament. There were goals aplenty in the best Group Stages I have ever seen. And while scoring in the knockout rounds was actually down from 4 years ago, the scoring in 2010 mostly came in blowouts (Germany beating England 4-1 and then Argentina 4-0) or monotonous wins were Spain choked the life out of their opponent. Here we had tension and drama. We may have had few great games from the QFs on, although to me Netherlands vs. Costa Rica and Brazil vs. Colombia somewhat apply, as does the final, we had great drama. And ultimately we had a Great Team that won the title.
That’s something I love about the World Cup. There are no real fluke winners. Look at the last five World Cup Champions.
There is no fluke among them. Spain, oddly given how many consider them the Greatest International Team Ever, has by far the weakest resume, as they were the only team to lose a game, and scored the fewest goals and had the worst Goal Differential. Germany is slightly skewed by 7-1, but then again Brazil and France enjoyed easy groups where they dominated. Still, those are all quality teams with multiple World Class players. That’s why, really, Argentina had no business winning. Their Goals Allowed to Goals Scored ratio would have matched up with Spain from 4 years ago had they won 0-0 on penalties (overall mark: 5-0-2, with 8 Goals Scored and 3 Goals allowed), but they were nowhere near as controlling and dominant as Spain. Still, Germany is right there with those other teams. Each deserving Champions. Germany waited a long time to finally get back to the top of World Football, but they did it the hard way, the noble way, and they deserve every bit of it.
Who knows what 2018 holds. Germany looks like the easy favorite and unless there is a rash of injuries or there is another Messi lurking that no one knows of yet, they will be the favorites. But it is hard to repeat. It is hard to stay that dominant, that focused, and to win so many close contests. Despite being easily the best team in this tournament, they could have as easily lost the final to Argentina. Had Higuain taken advantage of Kroos’ awful header, or had Messi done what he has done hundreds of times for Barca and scored on that relatively simple chance right at the start of the 2nd half, or had Palacio controlled it better in extra time, Germany may lose. They didn’t, which is nice because they deserved to win. The best team won the World Cup by playing great football that was beautiful and tactically sound at the same time. They did it by coming together as a nation and fostering a style that pervades through that German team and will do so for the forseeable future. Germany is on top of the World, and they might be there a long, long time.