The unthinkable happened a little over a week ago, as Germany lost their opening match in Russia to Mexico. A superb Hirving Lozano goal settled the contest — the Germans could not break El Tri’s defence no matter how hard they tried. Not surprisingly, many began to forecast the worst for the holders. Memories of France in 2002 and Spain in 2010 came flooding in. Would Germany become another statistic of a defending champion that capitulated at the first hurdle by failing to make it past the group stage?
Such concerns were perfectly understandable. After all, motivating a team that has won everything there is to win at the highest level is no easy task, and, in some cases, turns out to be an impossible one. Die Mannschaft are both the World Cup and the Confederations Cup holders and have dominated international football in the past four years. To cap it all off, the German national team has consistently been ranked the best men’s football team in the world by FIFA.
But in football, as in anything, all good things do come to an end. And so it seemed Germany’s time to be dethroned had come. Heading into the competition, the team began to show signs of letting up in the warm-up matches preparatory for the tournament. Prior to the beginning of the World Cup in Russia, Germany had won only one game in four. And that was beating a lowly rated Saudi Arabia team 2-1 in a pre-tournament warm-up match. Back-to-back losses against Brazil and Austria elicited severe criticism from the media and fans back home.
“We didn’t lose our nerve”
Germany’s opening match loss seemed an indication to many that this was going to be an embarrassing tournament for the reigning champions. So when the side went down 1-0 to Sweden in the first half it was more or less a confirmation of what was already known.
But some habits die hard. Germany has developed a winning habit especially at the World Cup and it’s becoming an unbreakable one. The Mannschaft have won the tournament four times. Only Brazil have done better with five. But no other nation has manhandled Brazil in the tournament like the Germans. A 7-1 whitewash is the heaviest loss the Selecao have suffered in the World Cup. And to rub salt to injury, it happened in front of their home fans who were so disappointed they booed the players off the pitch at full time.
Germany faced the prospect of an early exit from the World Cup in Russia even after drawing level against Sweden at Fisht Stadium on Saturday. When Jerome Boateng was dismissed towards the end of the match it seemed there was no way back in the game for the Germans. But success and a habit of winning changes a team’s belief system.
They did something only a side accustomed to winning can do: “We didn’t lose our nerve,” the manager said. “We didn’t start breaking down in a panic after going down a goal. We kept our head.”
Kroos epitomised Germany’s attitude
Only winning consistently can imbue a manager and his team with such confidence and belief. This was demonstrated on the pitch when Toni Kroos scored with seconds left on the clock to end the game 2-1. It was one of the most dramatic comebacks in the competition.
And now that Germany have gotten over the scare of crashing out of the tournament, it will be same old same old. Germany’s last group game will be against winless South Korea. The Koreans have nothing else to play for but national pride as they are already eliminated from the competition after two consecutive losses.
International football pedigree suggests that the match against Germany will be something close to annihilation. Yes, anything can happen in football. But it will take an upset of the highest proportion for the Taegeuk Warriors to beat Die Mannschaft.
The match against the Koreans will provide an opportunity for the Germans to set the records straight. A second win here with a huge goal margin will mean they will not only qualify for the next round, but potentially top the group — assuming Mexico lose to the Swedes in their own match.
Whatever happens though, Germany only needs a comfortable win to make it to the next round. From then on, anything is possible. You only need to look at history to know you can’t count out the Germans.