There was a strange response in England to Germany’s latest four-goal victory: We somehow felt better about the thumping we received from the Germans! The usual theory about a World Cup is that the stage at which you are knocked out is the stage at which you face Brazil. That’s not quite right any more as shown by the Dutch this time round and the French (hard to believe but true) in 2006. It seems it’s when you face Germany that you go out now – and the youth of their team suggests that this may be the case in 2014 too (although the tournament is in Brazil then), and 2018 also possibly (though with the possibility that 2018 happens in England, my patriotic sense hopes England have a young team to compete by then!).
Moreover, again there’s the tacit recognition of the remarkable ability of German teams to do well in tournaments – how do they do it? This time round it’s clear – they have a fantastic team. But they’ve made the semis in six of the last eight World Cups – that takes us back 32 years to 1978. The period 1978-1990 is a given – Germany had great teams then. But since 1990 – perhaps since 1996 when they won the European Championships, no German side has been in any way spectacular – and from an English perspective, no better than any English side since then. Yet Germany has still made the final in 2002 and the semis in 2006 – as well as a European Championships Final in 2008 to boot. What is that organisational ability, that human capital at the management level, that means that a very average German team (e.g. 2002) can make it to the final? My theory is that it’s the stage at which they faced Brazil (England met them in the quarters) – but that doesn’t explain the other successes since the mid-1990s. Answers on a postcard.
But in 2010, have the Germans peaked a little too soon? A tournament is seven matches, the last four in knock out stages. It’s a fairly long haul, and it pays to conserve energy and momentum for the very latter stages. Italy are a great example of this, only really coming good against Germany in 2006, and then in the last few minutes of extra time – before beating France in the final. Germany on the other hand have well and truly revealed themselves on the world stage now. No sneaking past the Argentinians – they trashed them devastatingly. But their higher profile now means more pressure – expectations from themselves and others to repeat that level of performance. Will that pressure yield a more nervy performance against Spain? In 2008, the Netherlands started explosively, beating the French and Italians by three goals a piece. But they slunk out in the last 16 to Russia, having seen their momentum run its course.