I finally watched the series, ‘Germany’s Path to the World Cup’ – a collection of every single match they played in Brazil this year. Germany, now four time world champion, were not favored to win this year; Brazil, Spain, Argentina were the favorites. Oh how wrong they would all be.
Germany in 2010
Four years ago, a bright and young German squad graced the World Cup for the first time. Unshackled by boring German dogma, they played in their own style, a beautiful open football that the world has not seen before. No one was prepared for it – Saudi Arabia was buried 8-0, Australia 6-0, England 4-1, and then Argentina 4-0. It was the art of the counterattack taken to a new level – miss a shot against us, and we’ll bring the ball to your net instead. Thomas Muller, the linchpin of all these counterattacks, won the Golden Boot award.
But Spain doused the German fire, playing an incredulous strategy known as tiki-taka, aka “you will never touch the ball for 90 minutes”. It worked because the Spanish midfield was packed with Barcelona talents in their prime. Without the ball, Germany had no attacks, no counterattacks, no nothing. Just sitting back and letting Spanish players pass the ball to each other endlessly. Spain didn’t even try to score, missing could make them lose the ball. They still had to win, so Spain wasted a whole hour before committing to a single, perfectly timed corner kick, and won 1-0.
Germany vs Portugal, 4-0
Four years later, the young squad had grown up. They faced Portugal, another strong counter-attacking side, who also had one of the best players in the world, Christiano Ronaldo. It should be roughly equal, but it wasn’t. With great precision, Germany fired in a free kick, then a corner kick, then a cross-in, then another. Portugal tried to shoot back, but they missed every single shot. Whoops.
Pepe, the Portugese central defender, got sent off near half time for headbutting Thomas Muller (Germany was already leading 2-0). This did not help Portugal at all, and soon they had to book an early plane ride home.
Spain vs Netherlands, 1-5
Meanwhile, Germany’s archnemesis, Spain, got themselves into an embarassing situation. They did the same thing they were doing four years ago, passing the ball around, not attacking, just passing – and then the brash Dutch fouled them, giving Spain an easy penalty kick. Things were going according to plan, Spain in the lead early, and Netherlands just watched the ball from afar with wistful hope.
Just before half time tho, Spain made a rare mistake, allowing the dutch to grab the ball, lob it to Robin van ‘Superman’ Persie. who instantly headed in the most beautiful equalizer of the World Cup. Spain just shrugged their shoulders, and said ‘oh well. lets pass the ball around for another 50 minutes’.
It became quickly apparent that Netherlands had everything planned in advance. Visually Spain had the ball, but in reality, Netherlands was able to snatch it whenever and wherever they wanted. This allowed the Dutch to test the Spanish defence, which was rusty, since their game plan had always depended on keeping ball control, and not on actual defence.
Iker Casillas, the ‘best goalkeeper in the world’ four years ago. was exposed as a fraud. He made simple mistakes, palming a ball into the hands of waiting Dutch strikers, and even at one point allowing Arjen Robben to steal his goalkick, and score. Netherlands finished with 5 goals to 1. It was a thrashing.
Germany vs Ghana, 2-2
Historically, Germany had problems with African teams running fast under hot sun. Ghana was one of these teams. Germany controlled the ball, Ghana just sat back and defend the entire first half. The Germans could not find any angle to attack from, and whenever they got to the goal, they missed.
In the second half, Germany finally got one in. But this woke up Ghana, who finally decided they would start running. It caught the high German defence line unprepared. Breaching the walls easily (thats the weakness of a high defence line), Ghanan counter-attackers outraced the defenders, gaining a 2-1 lead. Things were looking dire for the Germans, so the coached substituted in Miroslav Klose, the old and powerful Master Yoda of Germany. It paid off. Klose immediately scored from a corner kick.
With things back under control, Germany tried to score a third. But they just couldn’t do it – so it was a draw.
Spain vs Chile, 0-2
Still shell shocked from the ass kicking they took, Spain brought the same tiki-taka to Chile, but they discovered that everyone and their grandmother was now prepared for it. Playing a daring, energetic, and direct style of football, Chile launched wave after wave of “all-in” attacks. This involved a series of gambits and audacious bluffs, allowing Chileans to quickly sidestep multiple Spanish lines to reach goalkeeper Ike, whom they knew was human after all.
And he was. Chile scored two in the first half, and then decided it was enough. For the second half, Chile calmly pulled back and parked the bus, letting Spain pass the ball for 45 minutes and knowing that Spain would not be brave enough to attack, let alone score. And they were right.
Germany vs America, 1-0
America was rightly intimidated by Germany, as their own coach, Jurgen, was a German. He knew the difficulties America would face against German attack, and America had no attacking talent to speak of anyway. So the USA just huddled into a diamond defensive shape and tried not to move, conceding full control of the ball to Germany.
TYVM, Germany said, and they kept their high line to squeeze the America and gain a space advantage. Tamely, the Americans never tried to exploit the space Germany left behind, and Muller scored one in, and it was over.
By now, it was apparent that 2014 Germany was vastly different from 2010 Germany. In 2010, they sat deep, snatched balls and launched rolling counterattacks. In 2014, Germany would play high line, keep the ball, and launch direct attacks. This strategy is known to be weak against counterattacks, who can exploit the space between the defenders and the goal.
Brazil vs Chile, 1-1 (3-2 penalties)
Brazil, the host nation of this world cup, and five time lifter of the trophy, was the clear favorite to win this entire tournament. Even so, they barely got past feisty Chile, who already knocked out Spain, the last world cup champion. Brazil needed to take the game to penalties, which in football is like a coin flip. And they won. They just barely won.
It was a bad omen.
Germany vs Algeria, 2-1
Understanding this, underdogs Algeria eschewed defence to attack that vulnerable space. They were very nearly successful, too, except that Germany was saved by their latest innovation, the sweeper keeper. Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer left his box to go chasing after Algerian strikers, bailing out the (non-existent) defence time and again. Neuer would touch the ball a whopping 21 times outside the box.
Argentina was driven to exhaustion, and by extra time, its players were collapsing on the field. The Germans were tired, too, but they didn’t run as much – so they collected this match, 2-1.
Germany vs France, 1-0
The French had been playing as well as anyone else this tournament, so they entered the quarter finals without any fear of the Germans. The Germans played in the same style of aggressive possession they had used the entire tournament – but with respect to the French, no high line. Philip Lahm and defenders at the back. And the plan actually worked – for all of 5 minutes.
The powerful French midfield could not be restrained. They easily broke through with deft touches to reach the German goal, stopped only – by last minute defence (luckily, the defenders were not playing a high line). Then the Germans would counterattack, reaching the French goal within seconds, only to be stopped by a very good goalkeeper. The immense power of both sides’ attacks, which are no doubt among the best in the world, were stopped by the immense defence of both sides, which are also among the best in the world. In the end, nothing was achieved.
Except that very early on, the ultra-precise Germans had landed in one solitary goal from a free kick, and it proved to be the only difference that separated them both. Very close match, 50-50 could have gone either way.
Germany vs Brazil, 7-1
Brazil came to the semi-final without their star player, Neymar, and without their star defender, Silva. Even so, statisticians were “very sure” that Germany would lose. Brazil was on home soil, they said. Five time world cup champions, they said. Highest elo rating squad in the world, they said. German defence looks shaky, they said.
Well, if the German defence is rickety, at least it (sort of) worked. Brazillian defence was totally asleep. They left Thomas Muller criminally unmarked, letting him get away with a corner kick. Then they barreled down the wide open space left by Brazil’s “all-in” attacks, scoring in precise, beautiful, 2010 Germany style four more times in a row. We thought that this magical Germany was gone. Replaced by a pragmatic, brute force Germany. But Deutschland was just waiting for the right time. And today, against the most powerful opponent in the World Cup, it was finally, the right time.
Within 30 minutes, the most powerful footballing nation in the world was down by five beautiful goals. Miroslav Klose (17 goals) overtook Brazillian Ronaldo (16 goals) to become the World Cup record holder. But the Germans were still not finished.
The Germans absorbed the inevitable second-half Brazillian attack, then counter-attacked to put two more in.
No one was able to explain what happened.
Brazil had spent 11 billions on building their stadiums in anticipation of hosting this World Cup.
Brazil in ruins.
Germany vs Argentina, 1-0
In the final match of World Cup 2014, Argentina parked the bus and shut down every single route to the goal. All the way from the midfield to the penalty area. Germany would not be allowed to repeat the rape on Brazil. In fact, Argentina would deny Germany the chance to even start an attack for 55 minutes. They were so rough that they made Bastian Schweinsteiger bleed.
It was impressive defending, certainly more impressive than the Argentinian attack. Lionel Messi, the best player in the world, was completely a no-show, while his compatriot, Higuain, was comically missing every shot. Higuain would finally get sent off injured when Manuel Neuer used his ‘flying punch’ kung fu move.
Germany kept moving against the jam-packed Argentinian defence until at the 113th minute, with only seven minutes left in the game, “Super” Mario Gotze sliced a side-ball into the net.
And that was that. Germany, 2014 World Cup winner.