The midfield metronome is one of those once-in-a-generation players who can do anything on the field. And do it well. He won’t be the most spectacular player Germany field this summer, nor will he rack up the gaudiest stats. But when he’s playing at his best and the traffic is flowing through him – or he’s stifling it at the other end of the ball – outcomes tend to be very good for the Germans.
Action ImagesCarl Recine
The Germans -- or, once upon a time, the West Germans -- have won three World Cups, which only two other countries have done. They’ve reached seven World Cup finals, which only one other country has done. And they’ve made it into the semifinals 12 times, which no other country has done. So, yeah, Germany are good at World Cupping.
There was a time, spanning many decades, when German soccer was synonymous with cynical, workaday displays of battlesome games. Their matches were invariably ugly -- physical and uncompromising and dedicated entirely to the result. It didn’t look like much, but the Germans sure won a lot. And then, current United States men’s national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who had led West Germany to the 1990 World Cup title and unified Germany to Euro '96 as their star striker, took over as manager in 2004 and changed everything. With the influx of migrants into Germany, the national soccer identity had begun to evolve. Street soccer was growing more sophisticated; Germany began producing more technical players through modernized academies. It took some time to take root, but Germany played perhaps the best soccer in South Africa in 2010 and placed third. With that core of players further matured, they should do even better in Brazil.
Action Images / ReutersMICHAEL KOOREN
How they got here
Predictably, Die Mannschaft ran like clockwork during qualifying, scoring 36 goals, the most world-wide. Germany, after all, has never failed to qualify for a World Cup. They easily won nine of ten games in a fairly demanding group, which also included solid opponents like Sweden, Ireland and Austria. The only glitch came in the fourth game of their qualifying campaign, on Oct. 16, 2012, when they allowed the Swedes to come back from a four-goal deficit in the final half hour of the game to tie it 4-4.
Bongarts/Getty ImagesLars Baron
So-so. As one of the favorites, any group the Germans were put in would automatically look tough. But Group G also holds Portugal, Ghana and the United States, meaning the Germans don’t face any easy games in the group stage. Still, they’re a safe bet to advance, given that a lot of their foes are likely to negate each other.
AFP/Getty ImagesCHRISTOPHE SIMON
Round of 16 prospects
Promising. If Germany win their group and Belgium win Group H, as everybody expects both of those countries to do, Die Mannschaft will face Algeria, Russia or South Korea. You can’t ask for an easier road into the quarterfinals than that.
Action ImagesJason Cairnduff
A swashbuckling band of technicians plays exciting and winning soccer and is entering its prime. In Mesut Ozil, Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos, Thomas Muller, Mario Gotze and oh so many others, Germany have the midfield depth to match anybody’s. And yes, that includes Spain. Consequently, anything less than a spot in the final will be a disappointment. Don’t be surprised if Germany lift their fourth World Cup.