“On the heels of their great 2014 triumph, much of the German leadership rode off into the sunset, leaving many wondering if that mass exodus would be fatal. But since Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Podolski and Mertesacker all left with medal in hand, Hummels, Muller and Kroos have stepped into their massive shoes, leading the way for the new shining talents of Kimmich and Werner.”
If you’re looking for the winner in Russia, fix your gaze on “Die Mannschaft.” A résumé that says defending FIFA World Cup champions, 2017 Confederations Cup winners and ten wins out of ten in 2018 World Cup qualifiers is all you need—and more!
Having depth in virtually every position—their B side won the Confederations Cup—and an experienced, still developing coach in Joachim Löw, the Germans aren’t the only ones who feel they can be crowned back-to-back World Cup champions. Never mind that this feat has not been accomplished in the 50-plus years since Brazil sauntered to the 1958 and 1962 titles.
On the heels of their great 2014 triumph, much of the German leadership rode off into the sunset, leaving many wondering if that mass exodus would be fatal. But since Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Podolski and Mertesacker all left with medal in hand, Hummels, Muller and Kroos have stepped into their massive shoes, leading the way for the new shining talents of Kimmich and Werner.
Even with Mezut Ozil floundering, Neuer struggling for fitness and large questions marks over Marko Reus, the Germans have lost none of the over-arching collectiveness and the systemic organisation for which they have long been known. Considering all that and coupling it with the explosive talents of Sane and Draxler and Barcelona’s Ter Stegen between the sticks, I daresay Die Mannschaft will again be an outstanding football team and a force to be reckoned with in Russia.
Their solid credentials notwithstanding, the Germans will still have to look over their shoulders at the unpredictable French and at their resurgent 2014 semi-final opponents, Brazil.
It will be a long time before football fans forget the 1-7 thrashing the home side suffered at the feet of their European visitors but in Russia that will be little more than water under a bridge that has already been crossed. In the four intervening years, new coach Tite has taken a disjointed, almost impotent squad completely lacking in self-belief and moulded them into a fluid unit with a samba fire rekindled in their breast.
Of late, stoic defence typifies this team’s play but it is combined with a spirit of “joga bonito.” Dani Alves will be a tremendous loss, both on and off the pitch. He is a leader, a serial winner and an inspirational character in the dressing room. Neither of Fagner and Danilo, the pair most likely to take his place, offers anything close to the package of verve and chemistry that Alves brings to La Selecao’s line-up.
Fred and Jo are history and Gabriel Jesus and Firmino are massive upgrades so Tite’s Brazilians have proper forwards and real flexibility this time around.
And, of course, there is Neymar. In the run-up to the announcement of the final squads, big question marks hung over the striker’s match fitness and his loss would certainly have proven to be a major blow should he not have regained full fitness in time.
But Tite and the Brazilians will certainly be giving thanks that their talisman is fit enough and has made it into the 23-member squad. However, they are certain to cope much better without him this time around, even if, like four years ago, he were to be forced out in the quarterfinal round, either by injury or some other currently unforeseen misfortune.
But all of that still lies ahead. And today, with the countdown now starting, Germany look readier than most.