Apt that in the World Cup that Spain fell, Germany rose to replace them. Indeed, there was no other national team worthy of the prize of world champions.
For nearly half a decade, no two national teams have been run so well. To an extent, both countries epitomise club football — team chemistry, a singular playing style, an identity of winning and a structure built for succession. In a way, the football pyramid that builds on from youth teams, reaching its apex at senior level is highest and most efficient in Spain and Germany.
And as Spain’s cycle came to an end, Germany’s may just be beginning.
It could be that it has always been building up to this. Ever since the revolution started after a 3-0 defeat to Croatia in the quarter-finals of the 1998 World Cup, the evolution has brought them here. Their insistence in technique from an early age has seen youth teams grow. And in the largest economy in the Eurozone, it is apt that there is probably no other national team that is as cosmopolitan as Germany’s. The epitome of Europe.
Years of coming close have now transpired into the greatest prize of them all. Along the way, lessons were learnt and implemented.
At the World Cup four years ago, they were a surprise package — a team of youngsters that blitzed past England and Argentina with quick counter-attacking football. But it was the semi-final loss to Spain that brought out the greatest lesson. Against a team so composed on the ball, and one that hoarded it for so long, Germany realised that counter-attack did not matter if you never had the ball. It was Miroslav Klose who summarised it best. “”When we eventually did get it [the ball] we were so exhausted from chasing that we couldn’t do anything with it.”
It made Joachim Löw slowly adapt his side to be more proactive — more possession based. At the highest level, superiority is determined by the team that has the ball more. Even though the 2013-2014 club season has showed that this is not the only way — one only has to look at Bayern Munich’s defeat to Real Madrid in the semi-final of the Champions League — it is still a very viable way of winning. And at international level, which is lagging behind club football, it still remains irrepressible.
It showed at the World Cup. Calm on the ball, manipulating it all across the pitch and picking the moments to probe and penetrate. It was not to Spain’s level of asphyxiating possession, but it had the added element of directness and ruthlessness. It had added physicality to the technically gifted diminutive players. And more importantly, years of getting close meant the hunger to get over the line was multiplied. Character was at its peak.
It did also help that the point of Germany’s peak coincides with Bayern Munich’s. Indeed, almost every peak in Germany’s history has carried that dual identity. When Bayern are purring, so too are Germany. But this is beyond just Bayern’s dominance. It is a coincidental consequence. The national team was already on the rise — Bayern’s rise made it an advantage that could be taken.
Therefore, Germany’s fourth World Cup comes in an era where they could be beginning a dynasty. With players who maximise their individual efficiencies to get the best out of the team, there is no denying it. Germany does not rely on a single talented individual to escalate it to a higher level. It is construed in the cumulative. Much like Spain for the previous six years, the best team in the world is actually the best team in the world.