Occasional musings, Geistesblitze, photos, drawings etc. by a "resident alien", who has landed on American soil from a far-away planet called "Germany".

Thursday, June 3, 2010

FIFA World Cup 2010: One More Week

The last preparatory friendlies have been played, each participating country has nominated the 23 players it will take to S.Africa, and suspense is rising among those to who plan to follow the competition. I myself will travel to Germany next week to watch the matches with my brothers and any other soccer enthusiast who will be in the vicinity. I will start a thread on the day of the first match, June 12, where we may post comments and exchange opinions on a day-by-day basis as we have done in the past. The present thread gives us the opportunity to speculate, on the chances of our team or the team we are rooting for, or about anything else pertinent to the Cup before it starts. I will begin with some comments on the German team.


Ulrich said...

I cannot remember a preparatory period before the start of a World Cup that has been overshadowed by mishaps, even tragedy, like the one the German team just went through. It’s worth recapitulating because right now, nobody knows if this has any effect on the performance of the team.

It started late last year when one of the two candidates for the # 1 goalie slot committed suicide. Nobody had known, not even his wife, how deep the depression was from which he had suffered over the years--the country was in shock.

Then early this year, the coaching team decided to jump-start negotiations about contract renewals with the German Soccer Federation (DFB), which, in turn, showed its displeasure by going public with it-- both sides demonstrated in all of this a knack for exquisitely bad timing. Two weeks of acrimony followed that ended with a public burying of the hatches that left nobody really happy—speculations were ripe as to the impact this would have on the team and coaches.

Then some players the German coach had counted on got hurt so badly that they will not be able to participate in the competition: Foremost the designated captain, Michael Ballack, who suffered a vicious retaliatory foul in one of the last matches of the season in England (he plays for Chelsea) by a player who will belong to the Ghana side. Of course, speculations were rampant in Germany that this was done by design—the player had planned not only to retaliate for a foul by Ballack earlier in the match, but actually to take the German captain out of the competition—Ghana and Germany are in the same group during the initial group phase and will play each other early on. Be this as it may, Germany needs a new captain and, more importantly, has to restructure its midfield, where Ballack was supposed to form a central axis with Munich’s Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Then the new #1 goalie broke a hip and will have to recover during the summer. Which is to say, the current #1 in goal started in the fall as #3, and the current #2 and #3 were not even considered for the position half a year ago. More injuries occurred during the last 3 weeks of trainig camp so that a real shortage is developing for some positions.

How will all of this effect the team? Nobody knows right now, and I am still concerned. But reports from the training camp are uniformly positive, and the team played amazingly well, given the circumstances, in the last two preparatory friendlies on Sunday (against Hungary) and today (against Bosnia)—more about this in my next comment.

Ulrich said...

Correction: The goalie broke a rib, not a hip.

Ulrich said...

Let me preface my remarks with a big proviso: I live in the US and am not really involved in discussions currently going on in Germany. My impressions are based on what I read in online publications and matches I have watched via live-streaming on my computer. That is to say, everything I say has to be taken with a big grain of salt, and I would welcome opposing points of view.

Successful German teams of the past were distinguished by an iron-clad defense in front of an excellent goalie and an offense that was good enough to score the goals that were needed. I still remember the headline in a French paper the day after Germany beat France (a favorite) in the semifinals of the 1990 cup, which pitted it against Argentina in the final (Argentina won 3:2): “Argentina has Maradonna, Germany has a defense”.

Germany no longer plays like that, thanks to the “revolution” the then German head coach, Jürgen Kliensmann, engineered for the 2006 cup. The result is that the team is much more fun to watch now—it can be positively exciting when it’s on. The downside: The defense is not what it used to be, and it is the part of the current team I’m most worried about. This doesn’t even concern the goalie--nobody seems to be worried about the three that made the final cut. Germany has always had great depth at that position, and the fact that it could compensate the loss of two #1 goalies in a row without batting an eye attests to that. I’m concerned with the line of four in front of the goalie, where only two players can be considered starters—Philipp Lahm (yes, it means “lame”) as outside and Per Mertesacker as inside back. I do not remember a time when the defense was this unsettled this late during preparations.

Ballack has tremendous experience and presence and has been able to score crucial goals for his clubs. But his performance for the national team has not always been that successful—in fact, I can’t remember a match from the last two cups (World and European) he put his stamp on—his performance was solid, at best, never decisive. It is for this reason, I think, that laments about his absence during the upcoming cup remain muted in Germany, as far as I can see from the distance. What nobody knows is how the younger and less-experienced players that have to take over in midfield will perform under the pressure of World Cup competition. The hope is that they will be able to make up in enthusiasm what they lack in experience.

It is strange that among the attackers selected for the Cup, two are bench-warmers in their club (Munich)—the leading roles are played by foreigners there. This certainly does not speak well for the current quality of German offensive players. A third, Podolski (who plays for my team, Cologne), comes off a miserable season. How they will do during the competition is everybody’s guess. On the up-side, two of the most successful scorers of the past season made the team and are ready to step in when the more established players fail. Plus, all of the offensive midfielders are able to score, which makes the current German attack truly multi-pronged. And Podolski seems to be on his way to use the national team to get out of a sustained funk, as he has done in the past.

But the defense still gives me pause…

PhillySolver said...

I saw the television schedule for the US for the tournament this weekend in the NYT. 7:30 am, 10:00 am and 2:30 pm games are going to make the tradition of drinking the best beer from the opposing teams of each match a problem.

I think you are right to focus on the injuries this close to the first games. Cote d'Ivoire, Germany, Spain, France and England are the teams most effected on this issue I think. Since these are among the better teams, I suspect that at least one surprise team is going to advance to the last eight. While I have hope, I would be amazed if t were the USA team.

My expectations for Argentina are quite low, but the past three months have led me to believe that Messi is among the best players ever and is the best player going into the tournament. I don't think that is enough for them, however. Italy always does better than I think, but I do think this year could be a major disappointment for the Azzuri.

Ulrich said...

@phillysolver: I can see the problem with the beer-- hope this will your biggest issue during the tournament:-)

Did you notice that if Germany wins its group and the USA place second in theirs, the two will meet in the round of 16?

I watched one qualifying match of Argentina and share your impressions. They do have a handful of outstanding players who may be able to pull things off, in spite of their coach, Maradonna, who, as coach, appears to be more of an obstacle than a plus.

I have also low expectations for France from what I have seen in the qualifiers--and they lost 0:1 to China in a preparatory friendly! Again, I think their vain and arrogant coach is his own worst enemy.

... and Italy looked old in the match I watched. In any case, if Germany, Italy, and Argentina win their resp. groups and advance in their bracket, Germany will have to face each of them in turn, like last time, provided it isn't eliminated, of course.

Ulrich said...

Another correction: The World Cup I referred to in my third post, when Germany lost the final 2:3 to Argentina, was in 1986. In 1990, Germany won the final against Argentina.

Marlene said...

Did you notice that if Germany wins its group and the USA place second in theirs, the two will meet in the round of 16?

Yes I did. I was wondering, who will you be rooting for, given your dual citizenship so to speak? Or will you be happy whichever side wins?

Ulrich said...

@Marlene: See my answer in the other thread

PhillySolver said...

An interesting road to the final game. Spain cannot be a surprise and the Dutch are at the top of their form. I know several analyst picked the Orange, but they and Spain have always performed below their capabilities...that is until this Tournament. I will not be shocked by a victory for either side, but would bet on the European champions to win. I think Germany did quite well and they have an excellent change for Europe in 2012.

Best wishes for a safe trip home.

Ulrich said...

@phillysolver: Thank you! I, too, have high hopes for 2012...