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German Soccer Ready to Reclaim Greatness

Something about the Germany’s Nationalmannschaft is different from usual. Not its position as favorite for the upcoming European Championship, but rather what is expected from the German national team. Never before has Germany been expected to light up a tournament with swift attacks and elegant skill.

Over the past 80 years, Germany’s strength in the international game was marked by consistency and efficiency. Germany went professional when the rest of the world was amateur. Its most famous players were Franz Beckenbauer, the greatest central defender in history, and Gerd Muller, nicknamed “The Bomber,” who perfected the art of goal-poaching.

This isn’t the land of Pele or Maradona. The Germans were always expected to make better decisions on the pitch, and be fitter than their opponents. But technical grace was never their forte.

This summer, Germany will compete with Spain, not only to win, but to be the best team. Spain’s tiki-taka style, which emphasizes delicate passes, has dominated for four years. Not only did the national team win the European Championship and the World Cup, but Barcelona has used this strategy to extraordinary success.

With defensive bulwark Carles Puyol and forward David Villa set to miss the tournament, Spain is in trouble, but will still be a formidable force.

Germany will now enter as an alternative. The more direct attack is a pleasure to watch, and a new generation of players is waiting for glory.

Coach Joachim Low is left with an excess of candidates for starting places. Bayern Munich’s Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos, along with Sami Khedira of Real Madrid will all compete for two openings in defensive midfield. All three would be obvious starters in just about any other national team.

Cologne’s Lukas Podolski, Real Madrid’s Mesut Ozil, Bayern Munich’s Thomas Muller, Borrussia Dortmund’s Mario Gotze, and Borrussia Monchengladbach’s Marco Reus cannot all fit in the three attacking midfield positions. Who should be dropped?

At the 2010 World Cup, experts predicted the German team would fully blossom by 2012. Germany still has a younger squad than any other major power. Now, the veterans from two years ago seem out of date compared with young stars such as Gotze and Reus.

Germany’s aptitude at youth development is scary from the perspective of its rivals. There is no end to this conveyor belt.

From 2009 to the present, no other country has been as apt at developing players. Brazil has always been cited as the model, but aside from Neymar, few top caliber players have emerged. As usual, a plethora of second-rate players flock to Europe on the customary pilgrimage, but Brazilian players are making less and less of an impact at the highest level of the game.

Germany will take full advantage of this unaccustomed technical superiority, and should feel comfortable even in the group of death. Being drawn with the Netherlands, Portugal and Denmark would be daunting for any other team, but not so for Germany.

Germany trounced World Cup finalist the Netherlands 3-0 in a November friendly, while Portugal and Denmark do not have the same caliber players, by any standard.

Moreover, should Germany finish first or second, passage to the semi-final should not be too complicated. Germany will face a team from Group A, which doesn’t have any established powers. Russia, the Czech Republic, and Poland didn’t qualify for the last World Cup, while Greece exited in the first round.

Victory at the European Championship is finally within reach. A second-place finish in 2008 helped overcome a poor record in the tournament, after being eliminated in the first round in the two previous Euro Championships. Yet, the last time Germany won a major tournament was in 1996, when the Nationalmannschaft lifted the Euro Cup.

That team was captained by current United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann. Germany team manager Oliver Bierhoff and technical director Mathias Sammer also featured in the squad. How fitting would it be if Bierhoff, who scored the golden goal in the final, and Sammer help steer their team to glory once again, 16 years after their triumph.

Though Germany, along with Spain, seems to be most likely to win, the European Championship is the best platform for surprises. It was on this venue that Spain burst into world dominance in 2008.

In 2004, Greece upset all odds to win the tournament, providing arguably the greatest surprise in soccer’s history. Eight years later, nobody can quite explain what happened.

In 1992, Denmark lifted the trophy, despite being invited at the last minute to replace war-torn Yugoslavia. Germany was on the losing end of that shocker, and will be warned. But if you can win the European Championship without even qualifying, the best team in the world had better be prepared.

However unpredictable this tournament, Germany stands in a better position than any opponents. Whether Germany is in reality the best team in the world will be put to the test in the next few weeks.

Theodore Furchtgott is a RealClearSports soccer columnist. He can be reached at Theodore.Furchtgott@gmail.com.

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