German hopes for the football tournament in Russia appear way overblown.
Remember the 2014 World Cup in Brazil? The host nation’s team, long the world’s football powerhouse, expected to win. Those hopes, it turned out, were largely based on the fumes of past performance.
And yet, Brazil had won the Confederations Cup a year earlier. This small tournament involves the best national teams from each continent – and mainly serves as a test for all the facilities and logistics in the host country. Nevertheless, it is a prestigious trophy and Brazil had won it.
So, Brazil showed up full of confidence for the first match of the World Cup against Croatia. What could go wrong? Well, shockingly Brazil fell behind 1:0. While equalizing through their then — and now — superstar, Neymar, the game really turned on a very questionable penalty in favor of Brazil. In the end, Brazil won but a warning shot had been fired.
As the tournament went on and pre-tournament hype gave way to actual play on the football pitch, the Brazilian team proved to be stuck in its old ways – which were neither effective nor state-of-the-art.
The ignominious 7:1 defeat by the German team in the semifinals finished off the hopes of a nation that was struggling economically and politically – and had been dreaming of a World Cup victory to lift its spirits. In vain.
A sense of entitlement
The twin roots of Brazil’s demise were a sense of entitlement (as if it deserved the cup simply for being Brazil) and a lack of realism in looking at developments elsewhere.
Indications are that this “Brazilian disease” has now gripped the German national team, the current world champion. A sense of entitlement pervades not just the DFB, the German Football Association, but the nation.
The rhetorical question being put forth: Really, who other than us deserves it? Moreover, the argument goes, it is high time indeed that Germany wins its fifth World Cup, finally pulling even with Brazil.
There are some ominous signs. Of course, Germany won the Confederations Cup in 2017 against some of the strongest national teams in the world. What’s more, Germany did not even send its best players to that tournament. Everybody was in awe over German depth and breath of talent. Germans most of all. So, what could go wrong?
Well, how ill-placed this confidence is became apparent a few months ago when Germany played Brazil in a friendly match to prepare for the World Cup. The two teams seemed to have undergone a curious role reversal.
One team played a very physical form of football, advancing and scoring with tall, muscular players. The other team seemed to have no inner drive. Its players were aimlessly pushing the ball around, without creating any real opportunities. It almost seemed as if the latter team expected that those opportunities should just naturally come to it.
From the German vantage point, the trouble is that the first team describes Brazil, the second the Germans.
Things weren’t any better when Germany played Austria in another friendly last week. One team proved very efficient, had a strong drive forward and used its scoring opportunities superbly.
The trouble, you guessed it, is that this description fits the Austrian team, while the German players were meek, aimless and pretty bad. Austria won.
This was followed by a final warm-up game against Saudi Arabia, a team ranked No. 67 in the world. Germany was lucky that it won 2:1. A 2:2 tie would have better reflected the game – and that tying goal almost happened at the end.
This game didn’t augur well either. Germany’s defense, in particular, looked once again like proverbial Swiss cheese, full of holes. The rest of the team mostly stood out for unimaginative busywork. No player stood out as being able to pull the team along. And the older players came across mostly as just that, older (and more tired).
German fighting spirit?
Of course, people are quick to argue that German teams usually jell during tournaments and develop a mighty fighting spirit.
That, of course, is what the Italians and the Brazilians, the other long-term powerhouses, also believed of themselves until they went down to ignominious defeats. In the case of Italy, when they lost spectacularly in the final group game against Slovakia and were quickly eliminated in 2010.
Thus, unless the German “strategy” in the immediate run-up to this year’s World Cup has been to fool all the other teams with these performances and come out strong in Russia, things don’t look good for the German team.
But that is the great thing about football. There are no Goliaths.
Oh, before we forget: No team has ever won the warm-up tournament, the Confederations Cup, and gone on to become world champion a year later.