There’s a perfect storm brewing in the world of professional sport and the A-League has been one of the first competitions in Australia to feel the full effect.
The 2014 World Cup champions nominated their preliminary squad for Russia this week and while some big names are missing, the Germans are still my tip to win football’s most important trophy once more.
History will tell you that Die Mannschaft have little chance to back up their 1-0 final victory in Brazil against Argentina. After all, it’s only happened twice before in the 84-year history of the tournament.
In 1958 and 1962 Brazil went back-to-back, while Italy pulled off the double in ’34 and ’38.
But, with the master tactician Joachim Loew at the helm again, expect Germany’s superstars to be well prepared and aiming high. The Germans have picked a strong side, that has a good blend of youth and experience – but most importantly, seemingly devoid of nostalgia.
Mario Goetze, who scored the all-important lone goal in the final in Rio de Janeiro, missed out on his ticket to the 2018 World Cup, as did the player who put in the cross, Andre Schuerrle. In fact, only six players from the team who played in the final are in the new squad.
“My job as the national team coach is unfortunately to sometimes destroy dreams and to make tough decisions,” Loew said at the press conference announcing the squad at the German football museum in Dortmund.
Loew’s decision on Goetze was absolutely right. The 25-year-old has only scored twice this season for Dortmund and has been on a downward trajectory for some time.
“It just really wasn’t his season. He obviously has unbelievable quality but in this current season he just wasn’t in form,” Loew said of the 2014 World Cup hero.
Sandro Wagner’s absence is notable, with Germany’s faux-version of Zlatan Ibrahimovic already saying months ago that he would be going to the World Cup.
The Bayern Munich striker is known for speaking his mind and Loew may well have ruled him out for reasons of team harmony. Remember: this is the same coach that kept picking Lukas Podolski for years in German colours, even though he probably should have been replaced.
Wagner’s response to his omission has been to come out and announce his ‘retirement’ from national team duties at the ripe old age of 30. It seems Loew may well have made the right call.
On the other hand, the decision to include injured goalkeeper Manuel Neuer in the preliminary squad may be seen by some as a mistake. Bayern Munich’s keeper has been out of action for months now with a fractured foot and missing valuable game time.
But in contrast to Goetze, Neuer has proven himself for years at the top level and is the team’s captain and natural-born leader. To rule him out now – weeks before the final squad needs to be nominated to FIFA – would be a bit premature.
Either way, the Germans are well covered in that position and have no need to worry about goalkeepers, as usual. Should Neuer be deemed not fit enough to go to Russia, Barcelona’s Marc-Andre ter Stegen will be more than an adequate replacement. Kevin Trapp and Bernd Leno, the other two keepers nominated, would start between the sticks in most other World Cup sides.
When it comes to the tournament itself, there’s always a little bit of luck involved, of course, but Germany often seems to have more of it than other sides, especially in recent years, Loew’s ability to get his team playing to their utmost potential when it counts, has been a hallmark.
Expect the Germans then to hit the ground running and win Group F (where they are up against Sweden, Mexico and South Korea). If they can do this, they will likely avoid Brazil, in their round of 16 game, and can deal with either Costa Rica, Serbia or Switzerland.
Brazil is not only one of the World Cup favourites, they are still smarting from their 7-1 drubbing at the hands of Germany in 2014 and would be keen to scalp the Germans at an early stage.
Things should really only get difficult for Germany should Spain make it to the semis. The Germans managed a 1-1 draw with Spain earlier this year and I think that their fear of the team’s tiki-taka hypnosis is slowly disappearing. Hopefully, Toni Kroos, who plies his trade at Real Madrid, can also help Germany counter Spain’s attacking plans.
That leaves just France to beat in the World Cup final, assuming they get that far. Although there is a lot to like about the French side at the moment, and they are hard to bet against, I still think Germany’s team spirit could carry them over the line here.
In contrast to the French, the Germans may not have a team of champions this time round, but they certainly have the ability to form a champion team. With Loew at the helm calling the shots, they also have the tactical prowess to win ugly in big games too – just like they did four years ago in Rio de Janeiro against Argentina.