Probably the most revealing comment uttered in the aftermath of Germany’s 7-1 semifinal exhibition over Brazil was an offhand remark from Joachim Low that seemed barely believable in the crazy circumstances.
"There was no euphoria in the dressing room," he said. It required a double take. Did he really say that? No euphoria? After one of the most supreme performances in the history of World Cup football? A game that left everyone who watched it absolutely staggered? How could it be possible to have no euphoria at all?
Because for Germany, the focus is unerring. The concentration on the task is extraordinary, really. Complacency is nowhere near the agenda considering how this group have been nearly-men for a succession of international tournaments. The experience of losing finals, losing semifinals, is an antidote to premature euphoria. All eyes are on the prize against Argentina (live, Sunday, 3 p.m. ET), with no diversions necessary.
It feels like it is Germany’s time. Germany’s international ascent over recent years has been patient, but the pressure to plant its flag at the summit is intense now. If they can claim that fourth star to embroider above their crest, it has been 14 years in the making. Back in 2000, when they slumped out of the European Championship, rendered witless and gutless and woefully short of quality, they started afresh. Although they reached the World Cup final in 2002, that team was comprised of the remnants of the old Germany — resilient, strong, tough.
The watchwords of the current Germany are completely different — mobile, smart, polished. They have created a sophisticated style that is compelling to watch. Four years ago at the 2010 World Cup against Argentina, they served notice of what this new flourishing team was all about in sensational fashion. There is a strong scent of history about this final — the echoes of the 1986 and 1990 finals bring substance to this matchup. Mertesacker tweeted a photograph of himself in 1990, a tall five-year-old half way down a slide in the playground wearing his Germany top. "I was already proud of wearing my DFB outfit — perspective change a bit, but not the emotions!" he wrote.
But it is the meeting four years ago that has greater modern relevance. It is fascinating comparing how the lineups have evolved for Germany and Argentina since they met in 2010 in Cape Town, when a 4-0 triumph for Low’s team almost reduced Diego Maradona, who was coaching Argentina at that time, to tears on the touchline.
Germany’s XI from four years ago is very similar to the team which lacerated Brazil the other day. There is only one player — defender Arne Friedrich — who is not in the current squad; Manuel Neuer was in goal; Jerome Boateng, Per Mertesacker and Philipp Lahm in defense; Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger controlled midfield; Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil and Lukas Podolksi roamed in that freeform, pass-and-move attack behind Miroslav Klose.
But here’s the key. A glance at how many international appearances some of Germany’s young bucks had going into the World Cup four years ago is hugely telling. Muller had only two caps. Toni Kroos had four. Neuer, Boateng and Khedira five. Ozil ten. These essential, core players in Low’s class of 2014 have gained vast experience since. "We have a generation of players who are well versed. We have matured and developed together," noted captain Lahm. "Confidence is very high and we have the perfect mix."
Incidentally, in that 2010 encounter, Argentina played with what turned out to be a reckless emphasis on attack. Maradona selected Angel di Maria, Carlos Tevez, Gonzalo Higuain and Lionel Messi, but that left Argentina undermanned and exposed defensively. Alejandro Sabella will not be so accommodating.
Germany were not quite ready four years ago, where they lost in the semifinal to a Spain team in their pomp. But now it feels like Germany’s grandeur can eclipse all-comers. They stamp the high water mark on today’s soccer. Argentina will aim to smother, but there is so much variety in the German attack, such deftness in the passing patterns that can be so dizzying to opponents when it clicks, penning Germany back is no straightforward task.
For Germany, losing would be unacceptable. "We’ll throw in everything we have, mentally and physically," said Muller, who compared the effort levels required to slamming your foot on the accelerator and keeping it there until you reach your destination. The only euphoria will come if the final whistle signifies the cup is theirs.