Germany, Argentina and More from the 2010 World Cup
A couple quick thoughts back from New York City after watching the Germans thrash Argentina 4-0, Colonel Hans Landa style(*) alongside the Dean of every American soccer scribe -- David Hirshey -- at the Kinsale Tavern.
If you're scoring at home, that will be only one-and-only quasi-World War II joke/reference, however if you happen to reside in the Sudetenland, perhaps lock your doors tonight.
That wasn't exactly the back-and-forth classic we were hoping for. Instead it was a blitzing blinding performance by the suddenly warm-and-cuddly Germans. Maybe I should have seen this coming. A guy was decked out in full Lederhosen as I waited to catch the No. 6 train uptown. That's as good a sign as anything, right?
There are two crazy subplots at play with the Germans unstoppable attack, err umm, you know what I mean. The Germans have now scored 13 goals in five World Cup games, including a trio of four-goal barrages. Through the quarterfinals the Germans are like the old cliche, "Everyone else is playing checkers, while they're playing chess."
1) This German team aren't your stereotypical sneering, furrowed brow villains of yesteryear. Oliver Kahn is retired, likely watching the World Cup in a cave somewhere as he sucks the marrow out of a pile of discarded bones.
More than that, the fact Michael Ballack -- the face of German football since the turn-of-the-century -- is reduced to spectator status.** His old midfield running-mate -- Torsten Frings -- forever hated for his handball on the line that wasn't called in 2002 quarterfinals vs. the U.S. (Call it the proto-Suarez.), is watching at home, too.
(**) Has Andrea Merkel sent Kevin-Prince Boateng a box of chocolates yet?
2) The Ballack Theory (a.k.a. Bill Simmons' Ewing Theory applied to soccer.)
While I, and most others, lamented Ballack's loss to the German team, an anonymous commenter left this thought:
"Germany are not weakened by Ballack's injury.Ballack has been poor the last year and players like Schweinsteger, Khedira, Westermann, Kroos, Marin and Özil can do a better job in the central midfield.
From your lips to Joachim Loew's designer ear muffs.
With the 33-year-old Ballack out of the equation, this young German team have been the masters of two crucial elements of 2010 World Cup soccer -- space and speed -- typified by the blinding performance from 20-year-old Thomas Mueller.(***)
(***) Missing the semifinals for two yellows -- one on a soft handball -- over five matches? FIFA is so so lawst.
Ballack fits the prototype, too. In fact he's a bigger loser than Ewing.
He missed the 2002 World Cup final due to suspension. He lost the 2002 and 2008 Champions League finals. He was on the field when Germany lost the Euro 2008 Final to Spain.
That leaves us all with this weird feeling, is it okay to like what Germany is doing on the field?
This team's free-wheeling attack -- in the irony of ironies -- is more in the "classic" Brazil mold than Dunga's Brazil was. Do we need to launch an investigation, or at least find out where Fred Savage and Judge Reinhold are?
These Germans have stuck to the formation du jour -- the 4-2-3-1 -- and showed how it's supposed to be played with the wing play of Mueller and Podolski, the playmaking of Mesut Ozil and the glided edge (some would say ungraceful) finishing of Miroslav Klose. Through it all Bastian Schweinsteiger has evolved from a laughable hot head -- with a rat tail no less -- to a cultured, complete midfield maestro.(****)
(****) When your girlfriend is as jaw-droppingly gorgeous as Schweinsteiger's you better be good on the field, right? (Look, that's a funny link, not a scantily clad photo, I'm sure if you want to see Sarah Brandner you can Google her.
On the other side of the field, the German back four of Philip Lahmn, Per Mertesacker, Arne Friedrich and Jerome Boateng held their line and kept Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez at bay. The Germans seemed more than content to let Angel di Maria see as much of the ball as possible.
Gonzalo Higuian was reduced to a spectator's role. Perhaps Diego Maradona should have considered a more physical, high-ball winning forward. Who knows. Guess his lack of tactical know-how finally caught up with him, then again, with German clicking on all cylinders, what could have been done?
Any time the Argies got a shot, it was directly at Manuel Neuer, who was in the right position every time.
Meanwhile, Martin Demichelis and Nicolas Burdisso, "were who we thought they were." In other words, not very good and Germany exposed them like the fair skin of a Ginger at the beach on Fourth of July Weekend.
Once Argentina went down 1-0 in the first five minutes on Mueller's goal from Schweinsteiger's perfectly delivered free kick, they seemed to have no answers. Argentina was down for the first time in the tournament and reverted back to the team that almost missed out on qualification. Sure they had the better run of play the rest of the first half, but didn't know much with it.
It was as if Argentina was waiting for one little moment of brilliance from either Messi or Tevez ... which never ended up coming against the German organization.
So here we are.
A German team that's been the most fun to watch at the 2010 World Cup.
For what it's worth, when I went to the last World Cup in Germany the German people didn't fall into the same old stereotypes we've been led to believe, mainly through bad "Saturday Night Live" sketches. Sure they didn't like ice in their drinks and loathed making change, but the Germans I encountered tried their best to warm and outgoing. So what if they liked to wear yellow, black and red faux-hawk wigs, they weren't the dour, meticulous Teutons I'd thought they'd be. They did, however, hate Goleo, the 2006 World Cup mascot, who's only fan on planet Earth might be yours truly. (Some more on the German oddballs and other assorted oddballs, I met in 2006 can be found here.)
The warmth and playfulness of "Young Germany" -- perhaps embodied by this cheeky video/song by Olli Pocher from 2006 -- maybe has to be seen by your own eyes to believe it exists.