Germany 4-0 Australia: Podolski 8, Klose 26, Muller 67, Cacau 70
For meticulous planning, look no forward than Germany. Despite the injury to Michael Ballack pre-tournament and the youngest squad they have ever taken to the World Cup (average age 24.7), the Germans were very much at ease. Indeed much praise should go to Joachim Löw and his support staff for making what seemed like a fair match-up beforehand look like a relative walk in the park.
The most immediate difference came with the two shapes of the sides. With Germany set up in a 4-2-3-1 and Australia most resembling a 4-5-1, the idea for both teams in the defensive phase was to remain compact but the execution was everything but similar. Continuing on from Jürgen Klinsmann’s more forward thinking focus in 2006, Löw – looking like an older character from One Tree Hill – sought his side to press with intensity. Australia in contrast, dropped back into their own half and looked to keep the distances between each band – midfield and attack, midfield and defence – very short. That, however, was ultimately their downfall.
Mesut Özil and Klose were constantly able to interchange positions “between the lines” and drag opposing defenders out of position. Australia’s problem was they tried to move as a unit – looking to replicate to some degree Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan side of the late eighties – but were caught out by Germany’s movement. Indeed, Germany are playing very much with four forwards, the two wide men usually play up front but did a fantastic dual role, while Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira performed what the Germans call the “double six” as opposed to one typical deployed by many teams (England come to mind). That means, in the defensive phase, the wingers look to force the opposing wingers inside into the congested area in the centre which they hope will be manned by a double shield all at a high intensity. (Just ask yourself how many often the Australian wingers were allowed to take on Lahm and Badstuber?)
Mental preparation is the area Louis van Gaal sees as the greatest avenue for potential in modern football and in that respect, Löw and his team have done a great job instilling a mentality and discipline into even the attacking players. “We have yet to tap the full potential of the mental aspect of the game,” says the Bayern coach. “Mental preparation, visualisation and imagination offer the best chance for change.”
Germany’s movement was fantastic throughout and in Özil, displayed just how to play the playmaker role in contemporary football. For the first goal, the Werder Bremen schemer moved wide to support the man in possession and of which created the gap in the centre. Muller’s cross evaded Mirolslav Klose at the near post but the advantage of playing a striker on the wing was made apparent with Lucasz Podolski arriving at the back post to hammer in. He remained ambiguous throughout thereby making it difficult to mark and constantly exchanged positions with Klose throughout. Muller’s performance on the right was another pleasant surprise as his dribbling skills provided much of Germany’s dynamism along with Lahm’s late strong running.
But while Özil gets much of the plaudits for Germany’s attacking play much credited must go to Schweinsteiger who kept them ticking and his speed of passing garnered many fouls, including that of which led to Tim Cahill’s dismissal. Micheal Ballack’s shadow still hangs over Schweinsteiger’s midfield partner Khedira, who although having a industrious game and being able to replicate the nation’s talismanic captain driving runs, question marks will obviously remain about his defensive acumen. If England play Gemrany in the second round or quarter finals, will he be able to track the midfield runners?
But in a tournament which has been very much about defensive blocks and compactness, it has been little Özil and Germany with their movement, who have been first to be able to break from the studious tactics.