Don’t count out Germany

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:34 PM ET

Their prospective starting goalie, Robert Enke, committed suicide last fall after a lengthy battle with depression. Their captain, veteran midfielder Michael Ballack, will miss the tournament with an ankle injury.

Their manager, Joachim Low, is locked in a contract dispute in his quest for an extension.

Given the soap opera circumstances surrounding the Germans, it would appear the three-time champions are down and out going into South Africa 2010.

That, at least, is the logical conclusion to which many pre-tournament prognosticators have come.

It is also a premature one.

To count out Germany is a trap that should be avoided. This is a side that, much like Italy, often is most dangerous whenever adversity smacks it flush in the face.

In 2002, the Germans sent arguably their weakest roster to the World Cup in Japan/Korea. Yet, despite being outplayed in many of their matches, they somehow grinded their way to the final, where they finally were outclassed by a far superior Brazilian squad.

In 2006, there was little optimism going into the World Cup, even with the team sporting the advantage of playing on home soil. But buoyed by then-manager Jurgen Klinsmann’s game plan of stressing more offence and creativity, the Germans finished third and looked impressive doing it.

This time around, there are more questions than answers surrounding Low’s squad, which is the youngest German side since the 1934 World Cup team. Low is hoping such youth will serve his side well.

With both Ballack and defender Heiko Westermann out of the tournament due to injury, the door has opened for some fresh talent to showcase their skills on the world stage.

Low, in particular, feels the sky’s the limit for 21-year-old midfielder Mesut Ozil, a star throughout his career in the junior ranks. Fellow midfielders Thomas Muller and Toni Kroos are both 20 and will experience the World Cup spotlight for the first time, marking a changing of the guard on the German roster.

It is these youngsters who will have the torch passed to them by Ballack, who has been advised by friends and colleagues to hang up his international cleats and retire from the national team.

Defender Philipp Lahm, whose frequent offensive forays spark the German attack, takes over the captain’s armband from Ballack. He’ll join striker Miroslav Klose and defender Arne Friedrich as the veterans who will be looked upon to help the kids keep their composure.

“We’ve been very successful in the past and that’s an inspiration to the next generation,” Lahm said.

“We won the World Cup in 1954, 1974 and 1990 and the European championship in 1972, 1980 and 1996. We’ve made it through to the final at least as often. So we’ve grown up with the conviction that Germany is always good enough to reach the final.”

Sure enough, the Germans have made the quarterfinals in the past seven World Cups, a record they say is part of their team’s pedigree for winning. But that record might be a bit misleading. After all, despite Germany’s penchant of going deep into tournaments, it has been 20 years since it last won a World Cup title.

Moreover, the Germans have exhibited a recent penchant for failing to close out tournaments. They lost the 2002 final to Brazil by a 2-0 score; dropped a 2-0 decision to eventual champion Italy in the semifinals of the ’06 World Cup; and were defeated 1-0 by Spain in the title match of Euro 2008.

The task in South Africa will be just as difficult.

When the official draw was conducted in Cape Town, Germany found itself alongside Ghana, Serbia and Australia in Group D, immediately dubbed “Group of Death.” As difficult as the group might be, it does not appear to be as tough as Group G, where Brazil, Portugal, Ivory Coast and North Korea will beat each other up for the privilege of advancing.

This is far from being the best German side to play in a World Cup. Nor should it be considered to be within the cluster of two or three pre-tournament favourites.

At the same time, don’t count the Germans out. That is when they are at their most dangerous.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos