Die Mannschaft: Third Nation to Win Back-to-Back World Cups? Jawohl!

The 4-year wait is finally over. We are one week away from the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia! Before the 2014 World Cup in Brazil people were doubting European Nations because none of them had ever won the tournament on South American soil. In 2014, Germany went on to prove everyone wrong, especially Brazilians.

As we approach the 2018 World Cup, doubters are yet again challenging Germany, saying that no country has been able to win back-to-back World Cups since Brazil did so in 1958 and 1962. In fact, the 2006 and 2010 winners, Italy and Spain, did not even manage to advance past the group stages. Thus, “Die Mannschaft” is setting out to prove everyone wrong once more. It is entirely possible that Germany defends the World Cup. Here’s why!

Germany will win the World Cup because...

1) ...the team

It might sound a bit cliché, but Germany does not have a standout star player; the team is the star. Where Brazil have Neymar, Argentina have Messi, Portugal have Ronaldo, France have Griezmann and Pogba, Germany have:

Die Mannschaft roster.jpg

Reply to this post with a more balanced, talented, dynamic, and experienced roster than the one above, I dare you. 9 players in the squad were part of the 2014 World Cup team. These 9 include core players and starters like Neuer, Boateng, Hummels, Kroos, Khedira, Özil, Draxler, and Müller. In addition, Marco Reus, surely among Germany’s best of the best if healthy, would have been part of the 2014 squad had it not been for a devastating injury in the last friendly before the start of the tournament. Even after Reus’ injury, Germany went on to win the World Cup, showing how the team can overcome the crucial blow of losing a world class goal-scorer. Let’s hope this World Cup will not be plagued by injuries, but it is evident that Germany can withstand them like no other.

The experience and leadership from the above-mentioned players is perfectly complemented by talented young players. One such player is the heir to Philipp Lahm: Joshua Kimmich. The Bayern Munich right-back youngster has established himself as a starter ever since the 2016 European Championship. The 23-year-old is as defensively reliable as it gets at such a young age while also being aggressive and attack-minded. He has scored 3 goals in 28 games with the national team. Additionally, Kimmich had 13 assists in the Bundesliga and Champions League this year, as well as 1 Bundesliga goal and 4 in the Champions League. Opponents should be aware of Kimmich’s offensive contributions.

German squad.jpg

Next to Kimmich, the other standout young stud is Leipzig striker Timo Werner. The 22-year-old scored 34 Bundesliga goals over the past 2 seasons, while netting 7 for Die Mannschaft in 13 total games. Among the quickest and deadly strikers in the tournament, Werner is the one piece Germany have needed for decades, a true option up top. I could keep the praise for Germany’s talented squad going but, to keep it short, let me just say that the team is so full of talent that Coach Joachim Löw can happily leave the EPL Young Player of the Year, Leroy Sané, at home.

In Germany’s squad, consistency at the highest level meets individual brilliance. The likely line-up in Russia will be as follows:

Neuer

Kimmich – Hummels – Boateng – Plattenhardt

Kroos – Khedira

Özil

Müller – Werner – Reus

Each of these players can score, or otherwise individually decide a game. Kimmich’s offensive attributes were already discussed. Plattenhardt on the other side is incredibly dangerous when taking set pieces. Boateng and Hummels have scored their fair share of goals off of corners. Khedira and Kroos both are great from long range. Özil is one of the best passers in the game. Müller rises to the occasion, having scored 5 goals in each of the last World Cups. Werner is as dangerous and determined as it gets. Last but not least, Reus is the most individually gifted German player. He can decide a game in a single instant while presenting a constant threat throughout the entire 90 minutes (or 120). Germany’s stacked bench offers plenty of game-changing opportunities, similar in caliber to what we saw in 2014, when Schürrle and Götze came off the bench to win the World Cup final for Germany.

2) ...they are built to win tournaments

Germany famously gets better game by game. The nation usually starts with an impressive opener such as the 4:0 victory over Portugal in 2014 (be aware Mexico!). The second game has historically been the country’s worst game, with a 2010 loss to Serbia and a 2014 tie against Ghana, for example. In the third game Die Mannschaft does just enough to finish first in their group. From there, Germany gets more dangerous by the minute.

It is likely that we will see a similar pattern this time around. Mexico, while no doubt a quality team, should not pose a problem for the Germans. The second match against Sweden can, as always, be a tough one. Sweden has beat Germany 15 times, even though the last such victory dates back to 1988. However, 2 out of the last 3 matches ended in a tie, including Sweden’s 4-goal second-half comeback in 2012. Even if Mexico or Sweden make life difficult for Germany, a comfortable win over South Korea in the last group stage game should seal the deal for Die Mannschaft, after which, the team will get serious.

Assuming Germany wins Group F and Brazil wins Group E, the round of 16 opponent for Germany would likely be Switzerland or Serbia. Die Mannschaft might be more afraid of the latter due to the 2010 World Cup loss in South Africa. Either team could provide as tough of a round of 16 test as Algeria was in 2014 (a game in which the Germans won only after extra-time).

Assuming Germany advances again, the potential quarterfinal opponents are Belgium, England, or Poland.  Germany will surely need to improve but are still the favorites to advance to the semis.

The true tests and most even match-ups await at the semi-final stage. Possible semi-final opponents include all the big-name nations from group A through D including France, Spain, Argentina, and Portugal. Repeating the mind-blowing 7:1 semi-final win over Brazil is unlikely, but if Germany reach full potential, anything is possible. The final, of course, will be the biggest challenge of all, and the path is set for Germany and Brazil to meet for a rematch.

Improving from game to game is only possible if everyone accepts their place in the squad, if each individual has a good, determined, and positive attitude, and the team’s mental focus is high. According to German legend Rudi Völler, great atmosphere and team-spirit were the keys to success for Germany’s 1990 World Cup run. All players, even reserves, knew their place in the team and did not start fights over playing time, but rather supported the team as a whole. Individual quality was not as important, says Völler, because the team consistently performed very well as a unit. This year’s squad could be on a similar trajectory.

3) ...the arguments against Germany don't hold water.

“Germany hasn’t won since October, how are they going to win the World Cup in such form?”

Germany is winless in the past 5 games, true, but all of those were friendlies. Further, 4 of those games were played against potential World Cup contenders: England, France, Spain, and Brazil. 3 ties and a 1-goal loss to Brazil are acceptable results in those friendlies.

In addition, Germany was missing many of the players that are now part of the above-mentioned squad, such as Neuer, Boateng, Reus, etc. The most recent 2:1 loss to neighboring Austria should be of little more concern. However, this was the last game before Löw had to determine the final squad and the first since the team came together (still missing Toni Kroos). Naturally, things did not go smoothly.

Germany will show up when it matters, when games become competitive. Look no further than the World Cup Qualifiers. Germany won all 10 of their games, dominating the group with 43 goals scored and only 4 conceded. In regards to the recent winless streak, expect Germany to bounce back against Saudi Arabia on Friday, June 8, and head into the World Cup with momentum.

“Other nations have improved since the 2014 World Cup!”

This is also true. France is regarded as one of the favorites to win it all this year. In 2016, they defeated Germany in the semis of the European Championship, before losing to Portugal in the final. This loss has made the “Equipe tricolor” even stronger and they have added none other than Kylian Mbappe since. No question, if someone dares to respond to this post with a squad that can match Germany’s, it will likely be that of the French. Whether they can combine experience, consistency, and talent as well as the Germans remains to be seen.

Next to France, Brazil have grown into more of a unit ever since the shameful semi-final defeat in 2014 on their home soil. The Brazilians dominated the South American Qualifiers and have their eyes set on their 6th World Cup victory.

England has consistently underachieved at the World Cup. This time around, from qualifiers and friendlies, England has shown their potential and could be good for a couple of their own upsets in Russia. Led by Harry Kane, the offense is among the best in the tournament. Getting the defense and the notoriously bad goal-keeping at the biggest stage in order should be the biggest concern for England.

Spain has also improved and returned to their 2008-2012 dominance.

Lastly, Argentina has been plagued by defeats in major finals over recent years and they are looking for revenge. With Messi at the helm, why not.

So yes, we can all agree that other nations have improved over the years, and that predicting the winner of this year’s tournament may be tougher than ever before...but it’s not like Germany has stood still since winning their 4th World Cup in 2014. Young players like Kimmich and Hector were part of the EURO 2016 squad that performed well up until the semi-final loss to France. More recently, Timo Werner, Leon Goretzka, and Julian Brandt have made some noise and pushed for a starting gig.

The pieces have come together, and for the first time in a long, long time, Germany is heading into a big tournament without having to deal with major injury concerns (knock on wood). Die Mannschaft and the nation as a whole are determined to become the first since Brazil’s 1962 squad to defend the World Cup Title.

Will they? Jawohl!

 

Author: Felix Dalstein