Tag Archives: World Cup

The World Champions: SPAIN

What Went Right?  PATIENCE! PATIENCE! PATIENCE! This was arguably the most patient side to ever lace up football boots. Spain didn’t so much come out with guns blazing and blow everybody away as much as slowly, methodically wear them down and put them to sleep. Their offensive approach was as technical and carefully calibrated as it comes: Build from the back, use the width of the field to switch play from flank to flank, use all of the field, maintain possession, use short, crisp passes to play keep away, lull the opponent into a false sense of defensive security, find the space in the opponent’s shape to spring a player lose, then quickly get the ball into that player in that space. They were the football equivalent of the old North Carolina Four Corners. Spain was so good at their long, sustained ball possession that if anybody tried to close them down La Roja Furia just quickly passed the ball to a space that a teammate just filled. There was not one single time in this tournament that they didn’t rule the time of possession. A lot of the time it wasn’t pretty but damned if Spain didn’t make it work to perfection. Hell, their movement was so total, the reason they beat the Dutch in the final was because they played like the Dutch better than the Dutch (which stands to reason; Dutch players and coaches have had a huge influence on football in Spain over the last 20 years). Nobody used the entire field better than Spain. They may not have been fast but when even a sliver of space opened up nobody was quicker at making diagonal runs and getting into that space. They switched play so often that nobody used the flanks better on both ends of the pitch, spreading their opponents so thin that it created the holes in the final third and in the box to attack. When they didn’t have possession – a rarity to be sure – they were the best in the tournament at closing down their opponents all over the pitch, anticipating where the ball was going next and quickly regaining possession. Got the ball to their front players better than any team, were the best at establishing a finisher up front (hell, he scored 5 of their eight goals),  and their front players were the best at getting into the box and putting quality shots on target. Among the best at taking advantage of their opponent’s defensive mistakes. Above average at set pieces; nothing spectacular, though. Never lost their defensive shape – they allowed only two goals all tournament long, tied for the fewest by a winning side with France in 1998 and Italy in 2006 – but I can’t say it is because they had the best backline and defenders. So good was their ability to close down anybody anywhere on the pitch that a good portion of the credit for their defensive proficiency must go to their midfield and forward players. In a tournament in which the goalkeeping was pretty atrocious, all they needed was a reliable one; in Iker Casillas they had the best there is, and he stepped up to the plate and delivered, not once making a single mistake or committing the mental lapses that just killed other teams in this tournament. A large ingredient to being as patient as they were was they never panicked. Even after they lost their opening game to Switzerland they never lost their cool and continued to play their game. Most of all, because they had been playing like this for four years and lost only twice in that span, they finally believed in themselves, and showed a mental toughness and refuse-to-lose mentality that had been missing their entire history up to late 2006. Spain has always had the talent to be champions. Until now they just never had the heart and hard hat workmanlike guts to take on the world’s best sides at nut-crunching time and say “Screw it, we’re taking them down!”

What Went Wrong?  They didn’t score a lot of goals. With only 8 goals all tournament Spain had the fewest goals scored of any World Cup champion. With a string of four 1-nil wins in every knockout game they were the Kardiac Kids. There just weren’t any games where they ran past anybody, so if you were a fan of La Roja Furia your heart was in the pit of your stomach for every minute of every game. They have to be glad they defended as well as they did, because at no time was there not the possibility that one mistake, one mental mishap, could have been fatal and made them an enigma in a long line of failed Spanish sides that had the talent and expectation to win but just didn’t (Hey, I realize I’m being nitpicky here because they did win the whole thing, but I have to put something here).

Who Stepped Up To The Plate?  Are you kidding? WHO DIDN’T? Casillas only had to be reliable in a tournament where the goalkeeping was just awful. He was that and more, by far the best this month. Carles Puyol was a rock in front of goal, sweeping away what few attacks actually made it that far, and his partner in the middle, Gerard Pique, was just as stellar (I’ll bet Manchester United wish they had him back). Left fullback Joan Capdevila shut down every attack coming down the left flank, but his counterpart on the right, Sergio Ramos, was just lights out, showing an ability to go forward and join the attack; he is arguably the best fullback in the world now. The two defensive/holding midfielders responsible for stopping the opposition attack before it got to the front line and orchestrating their attack, Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso, were by far the best in the tournament. The linkup to the front, Xavi and Andres Iniesta, were invaluable, making runs into space, creating chances going forward, and even making some quality shots in the final third, and when it came time to take the game by the horns and get the ball in the net, Iniesta got it done at nut-crunching time. Of course, David Villa was the perfect finisher; he worked best operating just left of the target man. Scoring five goals to share the tournament lead, every shot he took was quality and on target. In their final two games Pedro stepped in, and allowed to roam got the ball on his feet and created space for Iniesta and Villa to make runs into the box. Spain’s bench was deep but not really very integral, so great was their starting XI. But on the rare occasions the substitutes were called upon, Fernando Llorente, David Silva, and Jesus Navas slipped in well, but when they needed more attacking quality in the center there were few that were better at opening up the game in attack better than Cesc Fabregas (it is his creativity and distribution that created the World Cup-winning goal for Iniesta in the final).

Who Didn’t Show Up?  Target man Fernando Torres just couldn’t get at the end of any service and finish his chances. After five games he was put on the reserve’s bench for Pedro, who moved out to the forward flanks and roamed while Villa was moved inside as the target man. The move didn’t work any better; after that all of a sudden it wasn’t the forwards, including Villa, scoring goals. However, while Torres may not have scored the goals that would have made it a lot easier for Spain, I contend that it was his ability to get the ball in the box, hold up play and get it to Villa that made the Spain attack work more proficiently. So while Torres didn’t score any goals he was at least effective distributing the ball to the open player trailing in the box.

How Was The Coaching?  Before I answer that something needs to be said here. A large part of the credit needs to go to Spain’s previous coach, Luis Aragones, who put these players and this system in place four years ago. It was Aragones that came up with the fluid, rhythmic, attacking machine that is their 4-5-1 system — with two defensive/holding midfielders/distributors, one creator in the center, one winger, and one linkup player on the other flank roaming into the box — that put these players in a position to win. It was Aragones that got 14 players from the two most successful clubs in both Spain and the world, Barcelona and Real Madrid, and put their successful familiarity and chemistry – as well as their world class talents – to use for the national side. It was Aragones who convinced those same world-class players from Barca and Real to forget their bitter rivalry and animosity towards each other, all for the common national good. And it was Aragones’ high-strung, high intensity that instilled in these players a backbone and belief in themselves that led them to 22 straight international wins, culminating in a European championship in 2008. This side under Aragones played a much more fluid, creative, exciting attack, encompassing the best attributes of the Dutch “Total Football” – which is why I don’t think Spain would have won this World Cup under Aragones. After Euro 2008 Spain needed what the stoic, calm Vicente del Bosque brought. After losing to the Swiss the high-strung Aragones would have eviscerated his players, which would have had them playing in fear, on their heels and with enough doubt in their minds that it would have created any number of moments of indecision or panic in subsequent games that would have been fatal. Furthermore, Aragones was fiercely loyal to his players, so he would not have replaced a player as important as Torres at as critical a juncture as the World Cup semifinals. The players and system was already in place when del Bosque took over; what it needed to succeed in the World Cup was the patient, workmanlike, never panic, grind-it-out approach that del Bosque has brought to every winning side he’s ever coached (and most of us are still wondering why after winning both La Liga and the Champions League twice Real fired him). It is national sides like that — not the hypnotically creative and magical sides put on the back of one or two hyper-competitive mega-superstars that have won world championships in bygone eras – that have come define World Cup champions in the 21st century. Del Bosque was and is one of the best in-game thinkers there is. It was a stroke of genius for the Spanish football federation to pull him out of mothball and get him to instill in this side what it needed to reach the football summit.

Did They Finish Where They Were Expected?  FINALLY, YES! Spain has been expected to contend for major international championships for over 50 years. Like I said, they’ve always had the world-class players with world-class talent and even world-class coaches. What they lacked was backbone, guts, balls. It wasn’t that they lost to other national sides that had world-class players with world-class talent and world-class coaches; that is to be expected. It’s that Spain would wilt under the pressure of expectations (France in 2006), What’s more, they would lose or draw to teams of lesser quality at the wrong time who raised their game for at least one game and took Spain out of their game (Austria in 1978, Honduras and Northern Ireland in 1982, Belgium in 1986, Uruguay and Yugoslavia in 1990, South Korea in 1994, Nigeria and Paraguay in 1998, South Korea again in 2002). It had reached the point where you just knew that as good as they were Spain was going to figure out some way of screwing it up. Not anymore. After their surprisingly easy victory in Euro 2008 there was an expectation by them, their countryman, the betting public and most of the world that Spain was favored to win in South Africa. There just simply were no excuses. And under pressure like they’ve never felt before, they delivered. There’s nothing else to say here except WELL DONE!

What Now?  Party like you can die tomorrow, as if cities like Madrid, Barcelona, and Seville need any excuse to celebrate! Seriously, there is a lot to like about the national side going forward. A large number of their key players (Pique, Ramos, Iniesta, Pedro, Fabregas, Silva) won’t be 30 by the next World Cup in Brazil in 2014, so there is every reason that they can expect to keep things going. Furthermore, there are a few current national players who are in their early twenties and will be in their athletic prime by 2014, so they can expect to take over a lot of the heavy lifting from here (Fabregas, Silva, Pedro, Jesus Navas, Javi Martinez, Raul Albiol). Casillas is only 30, and we all know that great goalkeepers actually get better with age and can play at a world class level into their forties. And Remember, this is Spain; there is always a load of talent on the ground and there are at least two teams in Real Madrid and Barcelona that are always creating world-class players. If they don’t fall into the trap that their immediate world champion predecessors, Italy, fall into of not bringing in new players to compliment the experienced veterans, and integrate the young talent that is in the most talented league in the world (La Liga Primera), then there is no reason Spain can’t continue to live up to high expectations. Luis Aragones and Vicente del Bosque have shown the way, the system is in place, and there are some very good coaches in Spain that can take up the mantle and keep it going.

Runners-Up: Netherlands

What Went Right?  Expert at direct attacking quality. Not nearly as fluid or flashy as “Total Football” but effective nonetheless. No side made use of the flanks more than this one. Used their speed to great use, breaking down defenses on the wings. Their forward attack was so fast and effective that they didn’t need to go forward in numbers. Best attacking flankers in the game, their wingers could score from any angle and did. Were so good on the flanks that they could switch possession from side to side in the blink of an eye. The 4-5-1 they employed was more of a 4-2-1-2-1, and it was that “diamond” attack up front that made them go offensively. The Dutch did not dilly-dally around; when they got possession they got the ball to their forward flankers quickly and without preamble, yet still had a majority of possession in every game except the final. On the rare occasions where they patiently built up an attack they did it on the flanks and were expert at beating the offside trap. One of the two or three best sides in the tournament in counterattacking, especially on the flanks. Not the best at getting the ball into the box but one of the two or three best sides at taking quality long shots from outside the box that were on target. One of the two best sides at taking advantage of opposition mistakes in the back. They didn’t spend a lot of time in their own end, preferring to take the game to their opponents and playing in the attacking end. Despite their lack of height they were fantastic in the air and on 50-50 balls. Pretty decent at reading the game and anticipation in the back, and their backline wasn’t afraid to take on anybody who came into the penalty area. From the start they were going to let everybody they played know that they were going to take them on, and exhibited a physicality and nastiness not seen in previous incarnations. To that end they played with a bad disposition, making hard tackles and getting a body on any opponent who had the ball. Didn’t sit back and wait for their opponents to attack, choosing instead to close them down and take the ball away from them. Next to Spain the surprisingly second best goalkeeping in the tournament.

What Went Wrong? As great as they were on the wings they were just as soft in the center on both sides of the ball – and in the end it mattered. In an era when a suffocating defense is the linchpin to success at the international level the Netherlands gave up way too many goals for a World Cup finalist. The center of the defense had way too many mental lapses, were surprisingly easy to break down, and played with a certain nastiness that bordered on dirty. The same can be said about their defensive/holding midfielders, who contributed virtually nothing going forward, were pretty slipshod about distribution and attacking orchestration, and showed no defensive finesse in taking on opposition attackers before they got to the backline. While both fullbacks were proficient in contributing to the attack, there were too many times when they were just embarrassed by an opposition winger on their rear flanks who juked them out of their pants, leaving the back exposed to efficient service into their box. Not the world’s most effective use of the center of midfield going forward, and needless to say they were just average at getting service into the box, although when they did it usually was one of their wingers or Wesley Sneijder who got on the end of it. Relied way too much on just two players, Sneijder and Arjen Robben, instead choosing to play a three-man game in attack that also included Robin van Persie (before Robben was healthy in the knockout round the three-man attack consisted of Sneijder, Dirk Kuyt on the left flank and van Persie up front). Worst of all, they chose to get away from what worked for them prior to the final and practically mug Spain, playing like they were thugs. It was nasty, unattractive and embarrassing. If they had just played their game and attacked like they had been they may have been holding that 13 pound trophy instead of Spain.

Who Stepped Up To The Plate?  Who else? Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben. Four years ago under coach Marco van Basten, it was Robben on the left flank, van Persie on the right flank, and Ruud van Nistelrooy as the target man up front in the three man game, with the midfield getting circumvented entirely. It didn’t work; the Netherlands were easily ousted in the Round of 16. It was a stroke of genius to move van Persie up front, bring Sniejder inside in the space just behind van Persie, make a winger out of Dirk Kuyt on the left, and switch Robben to the right side. Once Robben was back and healthy, they were so good at switching play and working the triangle game on the flanks that you just didn’t know where they were coming from, and that made them hard to defend. This more than anything is why the Netherlands were playing for a championship. There was arguably nobody harder in the midfield to displace than Nigel de Jong and Mark van Pummel, er, Bommel, who were the best thing defensively about the Netherlands. Thirty-six year-old left back Giovanni van Bronckhorst was at his level best getting forward on the left flank and breaking off some great service inside. Nothing spectacular from keeper Maarten Stekelenburg, but he was steady, reliable, didn’t make any mistakes and actually managed to make quite a few stellar saves, and that was enough to make him the second best goalkeeper in this tournament. On the rare occasions when he got in Rafael van der Vaart created some good opportunities for Robben and Sneijder to convert; why he wasn’t on the pitch for every minute of every game is beyond me. They lost absolutely nothing going forward on the flanks when they brought in Eljero Elia, whose speed alone just created so much space for an attacker to run into. And 36-year-old Andre Ooijer and Khalid Boulahrouz were actually better in the center of defense than anybody they had starting.

Who Didn’t Show Up?  For the most part John Heitinga and Joris Mathijsen played pretty well, but on way too many occasions you could tell they just weren’t communicating with each other and Stekelenburg – and that’s when they were the most prone to breaking down their defensive shape in front of goal. As good as he was going forward, van Bronckhorst was just as ineffectual in the back, allowing too many attacking wingers to come in and break him down in the back. Still, he was much better on the left than Gregory van der Wiel was on the right; he didn’t do anything particularly well. De Jong and van Pummel, er, Bommel were virtually useless going forward; their entire existence was simply to mug any opposition player that came into their area, get the ball out to the flankers and then get out of the way. They could have done so much more.

How Was The Coaching?  As ugly as that final game was, Bert van Marwijk actually coached pretty well. Previous incarnations of the Dutch national obviously had much better players with much better flashy creative flair and magical ball skills, but they also lacked a backbone and refuse-to-lose quality. This wasn’t “Total Football”, the fluid movement-intensive system that transformed Dutch football, but “Total Football” didn’t win them any championships, either. So I’m not going to blame van Marwijk for using a more direct attacking approach and instilling a crunching hardness into this side. Still, there are two reasons to be critical of van Marwijk. One is he could have gotten a lot more creative in the center of midfield if he either (1) had one or both of de Jong or van Pummel, er, Bommel go forward and attack some, or (2) replace either de Jong or van Pummel, er, Bommel with van der Vaart, arguably the best creative midfielder the Dutch have (and somebody I’ve been saying for more than four years now needs to see a lion’s share of time on the pitch). Secondly, you don’t change your game in response to the other team’s tactics. That’s what the Netherlands did when they played Spain, got away from the attacking side that had got them there and turned into these maulers and mashers who hit and kicked Spain at every turn. YOU NEVER CHANGE YOUR GAME! You always make the other team bend to your will. By turning into thugs van Marwijk was basically saying he had no confidence in his defense. This is the Netherlands, for God’s sakes. They should be able to attack, attack, attack at will. Sure it would have been a track meet, but the Dutch would have put some goals in the back of the net, gotten into Spain’s head and shook their confidence. Instead we got stuck with this war of attrition, a trench warfare that looked like something out of a bad World War I movie. That I lay solely at the feet of van Marwijk.

Did They Finish Where They Were Expected?  No they did not – and that is exactly the point. The Netherlands got further than anybody thought they’d get. The Dutch are creative and offensive enough to beat anybody on the planet. Before this tournament, if I had thought the Netherlands was going to play in the final I’d have given them better than even odds that they would win. They instead turned into something ugly that defied football sense. Yet even at that the Dutch had way too many chances to win the final. Kudos for getting where nobody thought they would, but they should be the ones celebrating a world championship in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. That Spain’s long football ignominy is finally over and Holland’s continues I just don’t have any sympathy for.

What Now?  As critical as I am of their tactics, coaches and finish, I can’t help but be very positive of the Netherland’s football future. There is as much talent on the ground in the Netherlands as there ever has been, and they clearly are now steeped in coaches that can instill a certain tactical rigidity when they need to. Plus, they manage to integrate new players into the national side when they need to. On the tactical side I would just suggest that they find some defenders who can play with just a little more finesse and a little less brutishness, and they could get a little more creative offensively in the center of midfield.

Third Place: Germany

What Went Right?  A lightning quick, furious and relentless offensive attack. This was by far the most exciting team in this tournament. Masters at finding space, creating space, and getting into space. Germany was all about movement, creativity, direct attacking and counterattacking. This was not a one-trick pony; they could either slow their attack down and build a head of steam from the back, or they could quickly get forward and get a shot off before you even knew what hit you. Making use of every single inch of the pitch, Germany had no preferred way of attacking; they could go right down the middle, go down either flank, or switch play quickly from flank to center to flank and back to flank. They played east-west, north-south, diagonally and in-the-air; just the absolute best at playing multi-dimensional football. Movement off the ball was just beguiling; they were able to find players in any space and get the ball to players in the blink of an eye. The best one-touch passing in the tournament. Visionary players in attack; it’s as if every player knew where another player was going to be before that player got there. Made expert crosses and through balls. Needless to say, they were the single best team all month long at getting the ball into the box to the target man – and nobody we better at taking quality shots on target (their 16 goals, the most in the tournament, will attest to that). Any player on the pitch could beat you – and did; you just didn’t know where the next shot was going to come from. If you made a mistake in your own end either mental or physical then you’d pay dearly; there was no team that took advantage of opposition mistakes better. The tallest team in the tournament, Germany was the best in the competition at set pieces and 50-50 balls. Made effective use of the offside trap. Good individual defenders in front of goal and on the rear flanks. Best part about their defense was their two defensive/holding midfielders, who were just suffocating in front of the backline, closing down the opposition attack in the midfield, and were just sublime in orchestrating their cat-quick attack. Outside of Carles Puyol’s game winner, Germany was very adept at defending opposition set-pieces. Got more out of their goalkeeping than anybody had any right to expect considering they had to go with a very young keeper. Made better use of their youth than any side in the tournament, and in the process two or three players were revealed to be superstars in the making. Bottom line: Germany imposed their will on their opponents, quickly broke them down, and then made them cry for mercy. By leaps and bounds the most entertaining team to watch.

What Went Wrong?  Chose the absolute wrong time to get taken out of their game, in the semifinals against Spain. All of their sublime direct attacking quality was nullified by a Spanish side that ruled the possession. Germany was so afraid of making a mistake against Spain that they played a more tactically disciplined and compact game, gave up the possession, didn’t effectively use the whole field and space, and let Spain dictate play. Fatal mistake. Once Germany got down late, they had to chase the game and got taken out of what had worked wondrously for them all tournament long. Not unlike the Dutch, Germany should have hit the Spanish with their quick, deft attack from the first whistle and gone for the jugular. (Did neither Germany nor the Netherlands see the 2009 Confederations Cup semifinal? The reason the United States pulled the biggest football upset of the year was because the Americans knew they could not let Spain dictate play, so they attacked with abandon. The USA played THEIR game, Spain had to chase the game and as a result couldn’t impose their will on the USA. If you are going to lose, it is best that you go down doing what you do. Nobody will ever hold that against you.)

Who Stepped Up To The Plate?  Per Mertesaker and Arne Friedrich weren’t the most physical defenders in front of goal but they worked well together, cleaning up mostly every opposition offensive thrust that got to them. Philipp Lahm continues to be a work horse right fullback both in defense and in attack; he is clearly one of the top 3 or 4 fullbacks in the world. Plus, as the captain Lahm was the leader who instilled this young side with confidence. Left fullback Jerome Boateng may not be adept at getting forward, but he was solid in defense on his side of the pitch, and he made a fantastic compliment on the inside when Lahm went forward on the right. Sami Khedira was a rock in front of the backline. I just love Bastien Schweinsteiger; he has to be the single most versatile midfielder in the game today. At Germany 2006 he played as a right midfielder. At Euro 2008 he was a left midfielder. Here in South Africa he was a holding midfield orchestrator and the main free kick taker; interrupting the opposition offensive buildup, then quickly getting forward, finding open players in space and linking up with the forwards in the box. In all three competitions over four years Schweinsteiger played masterfully. Why it is Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose’s respective club sides don’t think either is in form is just bewildering. In Germany 2006 Podolski was a compliment up front to target man Klose; four years later Podolski was a left winger who made runs into the box, with Klose as the sole and primary target man. In both cases they still showed that they were world-class players, with Klose scoring four goals. Germany benefited from probably the deepest bench in the tournament, getting invaluable contributions from Piotr Trochowski, Mario Gomez, Marcell Jansen, Brazilian born and German naturalized Cacau, Toni Kroos, and Holger Badstuber (who actually started the first two group fixtures before being replaced by Boateng). But the two biggest revelations of the tournament were Mesut Oezil and Thomas Mueller. The two 20-year-olds were central attackers positioned just behind target man Klose but with the freedom to roam outside, and both were just beguilingly inspirational creators and scorers. Both tied for the tournament lead in assists, and Mueller won the Golden Shoe as the tournament’s leading scorer (he actually tied with 4 other players for the lead, but won it because of the tiebreaker, assists).

Who Didn’t Show Up?  Michael Ballack – and that’s actually a good thing. Before suffering a broken ankle in the FA Cup Final less than a month before the tournament, the 33-year-old Ballack was slated to captain the side in South Africa, partner with Schweinsteiger in the center of midfield, and assume most of the orchestrator/distributor/linkup role that Schweinsteiger eventually had to. I like Ballack as much as the next guy. Since Korea/Japan 2002 he has been the linchpin of the German attack, and will arguably become a football Hall-of-Famer. But only a month away from his 34th birthday he is nowhere near the offensive wonder he was eight years ago neither creatively nor technically. Plus he has lost more than a step or two. I contend that he would have slowed this sublime track meet down, holding back Schweinsteiger, Oezil and Mueller from becoming the revelations they were, keeping Lahm from becoming the permanent and positive leader this team needed – and Germany gets nowhere near the semifinals. I would never wish that a player gets injured, but this side was much better served without Ballack anywhere near them. This was addition by subtraction.

How Was The Coaching?  Fantastic! Once again I must say something here. For most of their history Germany was more of a methodical, orchestrated, grind-it-out type of team. Then in 2004 Jurgen Klinsmann took over, brought in new training ideas and a new open, positive offensive approach, introduced and integrated young, hungry players who bought into this new system, and the Nationalmannschaft have since taken off. Germany finished third four years ago at home with the most exciting, creatively innovative team in that tournament. Afterwards his assistant for those two years, Joahim Loew, took over – and Germany didn’t miss a beat. “Jogi” maintained the positive offensive approach introduced by his predecessor, and brought in young new players as well. But he took it even further. With the help of the German football federation (DfB), the system is being taught and employed throughout all levels of German football. And have no illusions: Germany has the single most extensive and organized football support system in the world, with more coaches and players than any country on the planet. Loew took a lot of heat leading up to South Africa for littering his World Cup roster with U-21 players and having no real stars, but those same U-21 players won the European U-21 championship last year, so I guess Jogi figured that he might as well get them up to the senior team as quickly as possible. He couldn’t have hoped for it to work out as well. With the exception of Spain’s Vicente del Bosque there was no coach better than Loew. MADD, MADD, MADD, MADD PROPS to Jurgen Klinsmann for changing that classically Teutonic German football for the better, and for Joachim “Jogi” Loew for keeping it at a championship-quality level. I absolutely love watching Germany play.

Did They Finish Where They Were Expected?  They finished where I thought they’d would. I think most observers had them crashing out before now because of the lack of any stars and the abundance of youth. Mueller and Oezil put the kibosh on that. At the end of the day, this is Germany. Maybe that classically Teutonic, grind-it-out approach to football has changed but the expectations and results haven’t. With the exception of Brazil I wouldn’t trade Germany’s international tournament record for anything; no matter what their approach to football is, for whatever reason they just know how to get results and go deep. You can pretty much count on Germany being still contending the last week of any competition. An offensive juggernaut nobody wants to face.

What Now?  German football going forward is really something to get excited about. A majority of the players getting it done for the side internationally (Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Boateng, Khadira, Podolski, Neuer) haven’t even reached their 26th birthday yet. The two creative superstars-in-waiting, Mueller and Oezil, haven’t even gotten to their 21st birthdays yet; I can see both playing in at least two and maybe even three more World Cups. Even the players who significantly contributed (Kroos, Gomez, Badstuber, Jansen) are ready to step in, replace the stars that are probably going out (Klose, Mertesaker, Friedrich) and get regular playing time. The German football infrastructure is the best and largest on the planet, so they will keep churning out young players steeped in a new attacking approach instituted six years ago throughout all levels of football in Germany. I say keep doing what it is you are doing, Germany. I can envision more than one international championship for you over the next 10 years.