World Cups come and go, and the eyes of the footballing world invariably shift from one continent to another as the greatest show on Earth relocates on its four year cycle.
It’s a cycle that famously mirrors the spirits of England fans, whose hopes rise to a crescendo of optimism before descending to despair upon yet another early exit that has become all-too routine for the Three Lions. But in amongst the fire and the fury of World Cup exasperation, shock, despair, and elation there is one constant that remains the same – Germany will be there at the business-end of the competition.
A model of consistency
Of all the World’s leading footballing nations, Germany has perhaps the most impressive record at the World Cup. Indeed, since the inception of the Tournament in 1930, the Germans have been four-time winners (1954, 1974, 1990 and 2014), four time runners-up (1966, 1982, 1986 and 2002), and four-time third-place finishers (1934, 1970, 2006 and 2010). Moreover, since 1982, the Germans have reached at least the quarter final stage of every tournament, and have only failed to reach the last four on three occasions. While Brazil may have won the trophy on five occasions, they have recorded just nine top three finishes, three behind Germany’s twelve.
Based on the sheer consistency exhibited by Die Mannschaft, one would be foolish to bet against Germany making the latter stages once again, and perhaps even going on to mount a successful defense of their title. So what exactly is it that makes the Germans serial contenders?
Finding a way to win
The first attribute that serves as a hallmark of the German setup is their winning mentality. German managers, players, and fans expect to do well at the World Cup. They have great ambition and always demand success. And, crucially, when things don’t work, they find a way to fix it. In this way, they are similar to other highly-consistent sporing powerhouses, like Australian cricket and the NFL’s New England Patriots.
For example, German football found itself in a crisis after a quarter final defeat to Croatia in 1998, which was followed by consecutive eliminations in the group stage of Euro 2000 and 2004. This produced a considerable amount of soul searching in the German game, and led to Jürgen Klinsmann and Joachim Low implementing a radical reform of German football from the grassroots up. Indeed, both men were the architects of Germany’s success over the last decade.
By comparison, England’s reaction to underwhelming performances in nearly every major tournament since 1996 has produced managerial sackings, media outrage, but no meaningful improvement on the pitch.
Experience and tactical awareness
Joachim Low, the current manager at the helm, has been Germany’s most successful boss. Since taking the reins in 2006, he has led the side to a European Championship Final and semi-final, as well as to the 2010 World Cup semi-finals, before winning the 2014 World Cup.
Other managers in the German setup over the years have included Franz Beckenbauer, who managed them to a Euro 1988 semi-final and 1990 World Cup triumph and Jurgen Klinsmann who took them to third place finishes in the 2005 Confederations Cup and 2006 World Cup. What these great managers seem to create are well-drilled teams that supremely fit, tactically aware, and able to produce when it really matters. This doesn’t happen by accident.
Related to this, Germany also boast an experienced squad dotted with world class players in key positions. Manuel Neuer, Toni Kroos, Thomas Muller, and Sami Khedira are all players who have been to World Cup finals, won domestic league championships, and Champions League titles. Essentially, they are players who are serial winners and who know how to close out the big games as well as inspire the younger players/next generation.
In contrast to most of the participants at this year’s World Cup, Germany possess unrivaled strength in depth, with Spain perhaps a close second. The experimental side Joachim Loew took to the 2017 Confederations Cup had enough quality and talent to go on and win it, even in the absence of some of their top players. Moreover, the strength of the squad is perhaps reflected in Loew’s decision to drop Leroy Sane from the squad. Following the winger’s red hot season, it is difficult to think of any teams that Sane would not walk onto.
A further factor is Germany’s uncanny ability to keep it cool in the clutch. Historically, Germany have a fabulous record in penalty shootouts in tournament football. Whether it is because they are technically better or simply hold their nerve, they usually seem to come out on top. Who can forget the famous 1990 World Cup and Euro 1996 shootouts against England?
For all of these reasons, and others, there is a strong possibility that Germany will be lining up in Moscow on July 15th to defend their title. The German public will expect nothing more than a successful World Cup and perhaps even more importantly, Loew and his team will believe they can win it, again.