Time for Germany's golden generation to deliver on promise
Published 08/07/2014 | 02:30
This German generation faces its third semi-final tonight, a moment to finally realise years of promise.
Joachim Loew's team have been in long-term development. They reached the last four of World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012 but were beaten both times.
What they had gained in style and pace they had lost in nous and nerve, missing the experience of players like Jens Lehmann and Michael Ballack, who took them all the way to the final of Euro 2008.
Tonight, Germany have the chance to take the step they missed the last two times.
This is the moment for the spine of the side – Manuel Neuer, Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger – to assert themselves as experienced, serious, decisive winners.
The new generation of young attackers – Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil and Thomas Mueller – must deliver on what has been, at senior international level, merely promise.
Loew knows that this match – and the final on Sunday it could take them to – has been years in the preparation. His team have been good for some time, but now need to win.
"We've been in at least the semi-finals of the last four World Cup competitions and that just shows that we've been playing consistently at the very highest level," Loew said promising that this time his team would not fall at the penultimate hurdle.
This Germany team do seem to possess a focus they might have lacked in their past two tournaments.
In South Africa in 2010, they thrilled the world with scientific dissections of England and Argentina, cutting them open on the break. Then it was a semi-final against Spain in Durban, where they were picked off by a far more experienced side.
Two years ago, Germany started almost as well, but the first time they came up against a serious opponent – Italy in the semi-final – they crumbled and lost 2-1.
The big question, then, all tournament, has been whether this Germany side have learnt from that, or whether they will wilt again under the pressure of such a meaningful match.
Those looking for negative evidence could point to the Ghana game, an end-to-end classic which ended 2-2, or to their last-16 extra-time defeat of Algeria, a 2-1 win in which they were dragged all the way and were hardly convincing.
The evidence of last Friday afternoon, though, suggests otherwise. In the difficult heat of the Maracana, facing a France team that had been one of the most exciting attacking forces of the tournament, Germany produced a performance of controlled efficiency and economy of effort.
Loew made changes in tactics and personnel for the France game and those frailties evident against Ghana and Algeria disappeared, Germany instead showing the nous and strength many had been waiting to return to the team.
Loew had been playing a 4-3-3, with Lahm sitting in front of an exposed back four, who were themselves at risk given Per Mertesacker's lack of pace on the turn. So, for the France match, the coach switched back to 4-2-3-1, the system he had used in the last two tournaments.
Lahm returned to right-back, allowing Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira to sit in front of the back four and therefore protect the centre-backs from France's midfield runners.
Mertesacker dropped to the bench, Mats Hummels returned and looked far more comfortable alongside Jerome Boateng at centre-half.
France, who had put five past Switzerland in the group stage, struggled to create anything much of note. Germany went ahead from a set-piece – Hummels heading in Kroos' perfect free-kick – and the midfield trio of Khedira, Schweinsteiger and Kroos strangled the game as Germany put in their most assured performance yet.
Tonight, they will have to put up with emotion, noise and force beyond anything they have faced before. But once that surge is over, there is strikingly little to worry about in this Brazil team who will be without Neymar and Thiago Silva, their two best players.
The hosts are nervous, as they showed in the second half against Colombia, and struggle to control games even when they are ahead.
Schweinsteiger and Khedira will not be kicked off the ball, while Mueller and Ozil should be able to work through the gaps in the defence.
This Germany team may never have a better chance to reach a World Cup final. They have the skill and the resources to expose this Brazil side. Tonight they just need to show that they have the nous.