Youth propels German success
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency
CAPE TOWN -- If or when Germany wins the 2010 World Cup, it will point to the one defining moment when everything changed: It was in the 35th minute May 15th of England's FA Cup final.
Kevin-Prince Boateng went into Michael Ballack on a tackle and injured the German's ankle. Two days later, he was ruled out of the World Cup. There was great consternation and anger.
Some believed that was the end of Germany's World Cup chances. Not many felt that the loss of Ballack would actually enhance those chances.
Now, six weeks after the injury, there's little debate on the matter. Ballack's injury forced coach Joachim Loew into experimenting with his lineup, an experiment that wouldn't have happened had Ballack been in the lineup.
There's little question Ballack would have started regardless of form. Even though his career is clearly on the decline, Ballack would have demanded playing time and on the field he would have demanded the ball.
But with Ballack gone, Germany needed to find someone to play with Bastian Schweinsteiger and take the role Ballack had vacated. The result of the search may not only lead Germany to a championship in this tournament but also may cement the core of the national team for years to come.
Loew took a close look at younger players. He gave Sami Khedira a chance. He took a chance on Mesut Ozil and Thomas Mueller. Mueller couldn't get into the starting lineup at Bayern Munich until last year.
The result was startling.
Not only has the team been winning but also winning in typically non-German ways. The injection of youth, skill and pace has injected flare into the German program. There's nothing wrong with some shake and bake, panache and just a little cockiness. Much of it comes from the youngsters.
The ultimate demonstration of how Germany and its style of football have progressed was Sunday with England as the unlucky recipient. As one headline screamed: "It was men against boys and the boys won."
Mueller had two goals with great help from Ozil on the way to a 4-1 win over England. The game had great impact in Germany. It acted as an electric shock, jolting a nation that still didn't quite believe how good its team is.
The game might have a greater impact in England. England was shocked as it watched these young lads run around and past its veteran squad. In the end, it acted like a prod to the English who now must reassess their football program.
In truth, there are a number of nations who might reassess how they develop their young footballers. They may think twice about spending millions of dollars on foreign players while potential Muellers, Oezils and Khadiras sit on the bench.
"Boys, we love you!" read the front-page headline in Monday's edition of the daily Bild after the win.
Mueller, Ozil, Marko Marin, another talented player, are all 21. Khadira is 22. Perhaps most impressive is how they are handling the pressure of playing at the World Cup. They show no signs of nerves. It is as if they are immune to the pressure.
As good as these youngsters have been, there is still a long way to go. There is a general feeling that with Argentina in the Germans' path, the road may stop there.
Before this tournament began, most experts felt Germany was two to four years from becoming true World Cup contenders. Those experts believed in the talent of the young players but in the stomach-numbing pressure of a World Cup, nerves would finally take over.
They may be right. Even against the English, there was a period of time when the young Germans lost their composure. But being so young, these players have an advantage. They haven't had a chance to learn figure out their limitations.