Cometh the Hour?

 

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 12th 2014)

Wilderness Years Begin

Germanyʼs recent record in major finals is – well – unGerman. Renowned for ruthless efficiency they could be relied on to always be in the mix for major trophies, but the last time Germany lifted a trophy was in 1996. Remember who the successful coach was – a certain Berti Vogts. Argentinaʼs record is even worse. Their last appearance in the final was a losing effort in 1990 – an awful final. 

He inherited Franz Beckenbauerʼs World Cup winning team in 1990 and led then to defeat to Denmark in 1992. He left after eight years in charge after falling in the quarter-finals of the World Cup in 1994 and again in 1998 to Bulgaria and Croatia respectively.

Erich Ribeck led der Mannschaft (the national team) to a shameful exit in Euro2000 – bottom of their qualifying group. Rudi Völler managed one place better in Euro2004. Latvia finished below them, but two years earlier Völler led Germany to defeat in the final to Brasil. Luiz Felipe Scolari was Brasilʼs manager then.

Overdue

After the failure at Euro2004 Jürgen Klinsmann replaced Völler. Germany reached the semi-final of the 2006 World Cup on home soil as Klinsmann blooded a young team and left the team to his assistant Joachim Löw, but despite the studious approach of Löw trophies continued to elude der Mannschaft. Löwʼs team matched Klinsmannʼs achievement finishing third. On both occasions Germany lost to the eventual winners.

Spainʼs rise to dominance began in 2008 in Austria. The late Luis Aragonés Suárez ushered in six years of unparalleled success by beating Germany 1-0 in the final. They knocked Löwʼs charges out in the semi-final in Durban in South Africaʼs World Cup. And in the Ukraine and Poland, Spain retained their European title, beating Italy 4-0 in the final. Germany had been beaten 2-1 by Italy in the semi-final.

Opportunity Knocks

Spainʼs defence of their world title was one of the worst ever. Sated by their three titles Spain returned home at the first opportunity. Germany continued growing into the competition with every passing match, culminating in a humiliating mauling of hosts Brasil 7-1 in Belo Horizonte – the worst thrashing ever in the semi-final of a World Cup.

The previous worst was 84 years ago in the inaugural World Cup when eventual winners Uruguay beat Yugoslavia 6-1 and the USA lost 6-1 to Argentina. Austria lost 6-1 to West Germany in 1954 as well. It had three times and at least one of them had a very good reason for losing so badly – they played a large portion of the match effectively with eight players. One of the wounded was the goal-keeper.

The USA never had a chance. The rules permitted no substitutions and Argentina had taken no prisoners on their way through to Belo Horizonte. Their goal-keeper was injured after 4 minutes. Another player played on injured and a third played with a broken leg until half time. This was before substitutions were allowed.

Best Chance

Surely Germany will never have a better chance to end almost two decades of trophylessness. They topped their group – one of the most difficult, dismantling Portugal, drawing with Ghana and just beating the USA before Algeria gave them a fright, but fell just short. They deservedly beat France and completely humiliated Brasil.

Nobody can say Germany has not reached the final on merit. They have reached finals and semi-finals, but ultimately this tournament will be viewed a failure if they fail to match Italyʼs achievement and win the World Cup for the fourth time. Germany have done well; theyʼve got close before. Is it Germanyʼs time to win the World Cup?

Arsenalʼs Lukas Podolski thinks so. “Of course”, he said before Arsenal ended their own trophy drought. “Of course we want to win the World Cup, but other teams want that as well and it was not easy. The pressure is big because we would say Germany are the favourites – the people in Germany, the newspapers say we already win the World Cup, but itʼs not easy”.

 

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Spain Bow Out

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 23rd 2014)

Sated

World Champions Spain had lost their hunger after six years of dominating world and European football. They became the fifth defending champions to exit in the first round. Italy have suffered that ignominy twice (1950 and 2010), Brasil in 1966 and France in 2002, but few were as surprising as this. Having dominated the sport for so long nobody expected such a capitulation.

This afternoon one of the finest generation of players to grace the sport set the record straight with a 3-0 win over Ange Postecoglouʼs Socceroos. David Villa Sánchez bid farewell to la Roja in his 97th international with a Spanish record 59 international goals – the last in this match – a sublime back-heel from 8 yards out. Andrés Iniesta Luján picked out Atlético de Madridʼs Juanfran on the byline. Juanfran picked out Villa who showed that at 32 he still had the class.

After the World Cup Villa departs to play for Melbourne City and New York City FC, part of Manchester Cityʼs franchise.

Setting the Record Straight

Spain dominated possession. Australia were bereft of ideas in the absence of their suspended captain Tim Cahill. Given Postecoglouʼs mandate to bring young players through – Australia hosts the Asian Championship in 2016 – Cahillʼs international career may be over. Mark Bresciano made an appearance from the bench aged 34. This could be his swansong. International retirement is likely for Barcelonaʼs Xavi Hernández i Creus as well.

Despite the much publicised training ground bust up between coach Vicente del Bosque and Cesc Fàbregas Soler, Chelseaʼs new signing made an appearance from the bench. Fernando Torres Sanz tried to repeat Villaʼs goal, but missed and was offside, but later he got his goal. With 20 minutes remaining Iniesta pass through the Australian defence was taken by Torres on the left of the area and slotted between keeper Matthew Ryanʼs legs to double Spainʼs lead.

Vila had already been replaced by Manchester Unitedʼs Juan Mata García. The former Valencia and Chelsea midfielder completed the scoring with just under ten minutes of normal time remaining. Fàbregasʼ pas found Mata on the right of the area. Mata controlled and nutmegged Ryan again for the third.

Honour partially restored. With very talented young players having won youth tournaments playing the same possession football that the late Luis Aragonés Suárez implemented along with a winning mentality in 2008 and del Bosque utilised to win the World Cup and retain the European Championship in 2012, it is far too early to write Spain off.

Hunger restored and youngsters blooded they will be back wounded and thirsting for success sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, the team they beat to win the World Cup four years ago, the Netherlands battle Chile to top the group and probably avoid hosts Brasil.