Category: Archive

Once powerful Germany hope to recover glory

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Jay Mwamba

There was a time when being drawn in the same group as Germany meant a short tournament for opposing teams.

Like the Brazilians of yore, the Germans helped define the World Cup with their hallmark poise, technical efficiency, and that indomitable will to win that sparked many a dramatic comeback.

Successive German sides went to the finals with an array of world-class players. There have been names such as Uwe Seeler, Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller, Berti Vogts, Karl Heinz Rummenigge, and Lothar Matth’us, all who have since attained legendary status in World Cup folklore.

Only the Boys from Rio come close to rivaling Germany’s rich pedigree: six trips to the final in nine tournaments; three championship victories; three times losing finalists; two third-place finishes and one fourth-place honor.

But that’s all history now for the ailing Teutons. These are hard times for the “Mannschaft.” The pipeline of new talent has seemingly dried up and indifferent results in recent years have stripped them of that once invincible aura.

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Perhaps the ultimate injustice, by their proud standards, was having to endure the ignominy of a playoff to reach the 2002 finals.

That came on the back of England’s Munich blitz last fall, when a 5-1 Michael Owen-inspired drubbing turned the Germans’ qualifying hopes upside down in Group 9.

To their credit, they showed flashes of the old Germany in subduing Ukraine 5-2 on aggregate in the two-legged playoff.

For coach Rudi Voeller, a World Cup winner at Italia ’90 and silver medallist four years earlier in Mexico, the challenge is to resuscitate German soccer might sufficiently enough to survive a competitive Group E, in which they’ll face strong opposition from Ireland and Cameroon.

It may not be lost on Voeller that Ireland gave the former world champions fits in their last two meetings, a 1-1 tie in Dublin in September 1989, and a then rare home defeat (2-0) in Hanover on the eve of USA ’94.

Cameroon are also unlikely to be pushovers. The Germans could only scrap a 1-0 result in their only face-off on record, a friendly in Yaounde in December 1989. Saudi Arabia, the other member of Group E, were beaten 3-0 three years ago in Riyadh, in another friendly.

Indeed, Voeller’s biggest problem appears to be the dearth of talent in the transitional squad he inherited after the disastrous Euro 2000 campaign. With the Bundesliga not producing enough quality players, Germany has struggled to fill the void left by the retirement of men like Matthaus, Jurgen Klinsmann, Andreas Brehme and Mattias Sammer in recent years.

The Germans have pulled no stops in their search for skill. For instance, Ghanaian-born Schalke 04 midfielder Gerald Asamoah was given a run in the qualifiers, hoping that he’d do for his adopted country what France’s assorted foreign Legionnaires have done for the World and European Cup holders.

Much was also expected from the encouraging Hertha Berlin midfielder Sebastian Deisler, who, at best, remains a job in progress on account of his inexperience.

Unless an Owen-type find emerges within the next six months, Voeller will be left banking for success in Japan on the one truly world-class performer on his side, Bayern Munich’s Oliver Kahn.

The big goalie, arguably Germany’s finest ever, has been voted the world’s best on several occasions.

Strong on crosses and blessed with lightning reflexes, Kahn conceded a meager 10 goals in eight matches in the qualifiers, and five of those were in the stunning collapse against England when the German defense was repeatedly torn to shreds by Owen’s pace.

In other games, the defense built around Jens Nowotny, Christian Worns and Thomas Linke was reliable enough, but Voeller should be praying that Kahn’s Bayern teammate Jens Jeremies recovers successfully from long-term injury to add steel in front of the back three.

Jeremies is a throwback to the old Germany players with his ceaseless running in midfield, commitment and toughness.

Farther up midfield, another Bayern star, the highly skillful Mehmet Scholl, should be a bright spot in Voeller’s team. His technical ability and exotic flair make him easily one of the most exciting German players to watch since that nimble winger Pierre Littbarski in the 1980s.

And the emergence of Michael Ballack as a reliable scorer late in the qualifiers should be a source of solace for the coach after the struggles of Carsten Jancker, Oliver Neuville and Miroslav Klose.

Ballack, who plays out of midfield, accounted for three of the five goals against the Ukraine in the two playoff matches. If Ballack maintains his form into June, Voeller will be able to sleep a tad more soundly, knowing that he has a great shot-stopper at the back in the shape of Kahn, and a prolific scorer up front in the Bayer Leverkusen ace.

Cup winners in 1954, ’74 and ’90, Germany have taken part in every World Cup apart from the inaugural event in 1930 (Uruguay) and the first post-war championship in 1950 (Brazil).

They have never failed to reach the quarterfinals in any World Cup, which probably puts the great Beckenbauer’s haughty-sounding comment after the first-round draw earlier this month that it was Germany’s “duty” to qualify from Group E, into proper context.

Still, winning that fourth title may be a stretch.

(Each week, Jay Mwamba previews a World Cup finalist. The teams profiled to this point are Cameroon and Saudi Arabia.)

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