Germany are still Germany. Never count out Germany in a tournament. The cliches have tumbled from mouths and pens since it was confirmed that the three-time European champions would face England at Wembley on Tuesday, but they overlook the reality.
Joachim Löw has the talent at his disposal to go deep into the competition, but it rarely felt through the wildly fluctuating three group matches as if there was the focus and discipline that forged an indelible image over decades. This Germany is anything but predictable.
Maybe we should just enjoy the glorious, counter-to-expectation chaos. Once upon a time we would have said the situation needed old heads but they have spent the last few years letting the side down – whether it be Löw’s lack of a clear plan or the DFB’s “ongoing leadership crisis” (the governing body’s own words following the May resignation of president Fritz Keller).
Now, the beacon of hope from the brush with a premature exit at the hands of Hungary in Munich is a player who is less a product of the 21st-century revamp of Germany’s academies and more an English-authored success story. What an extraordinary tale it would be if he were to lay the foundations of an England reverse here.
Familiar to Bayern fans
Jamal Musiala has never needed much of an opportunity to make an impression, and so it has proved again at Euro 2020. Having been left on the bench for the first two group games, the 18-year-old finally got his break eight minutes from the end of normal time against Hungary, with Germany desperate and heading for humiliating elimination despite having had the advantage of three home games in Munich. Musiala immediately came to the rescue with a directness and confidence that is by now familiar to Bayern Munich fans. His dribble down the left created Hungarian uncertainty, his pass sowed more in the middle with the aid of a deflection and club-mate Leon Goretzka's finish saved the day.
The impression of Musiala belonging was so profound that it was almost lost that he had become Germany's youngest tournament debutant surpassing Lukas Podolski, who was 19 days past his 19th birthday when he played in the Euro 2004 loss to Czech Republic. "He had some good situations," Löw said after the game, coming as close as he does to beaming. "He has many strengths, especially in areas where space is tight. He did well for such a young player. He was crafty."
Neither, as has been clear all season, does he stand on ceremony. Musiala does things at a whirlwind pace. When he became Bayern's youngest-ever Bundesliga player on June 20th last year against Freiburg (at 17 years and 115 days), it was less than three weeks since he had played his first professional match of any sort, for a Bayern II side on their way to the 3 Liga title under now-Hoffenheim head coach Sebastian Hoeness.
On February 23rd his goal for Bayern in a 4-1 win at Lazio had him trumpeted as the youngest-ever English goalscorer in the Champions League. By the following morning, he was the youngest German to have achieved the feat, officially announcing that he would in fact pursue his senior international career with the country of his birth.
It was a disappointment to England, with Musiala having been born in Stuttgart but having spent his childhood from the age of seven there, joining Chelsea's academy at eight. England had made their move in November last year, promoting the midfielder to the Under-21s at 17, demonstrating their commitment after he had started to establish himself as part of Bayern's first-team squad. Musiala even scored in a 5-0 win over Albania at Molineux, the product of a typical slalom towards the box.
Yet Löw's charm offensive in late 2020 and early 2021 worked, making visits to see him play at Allianz Arena in person and then dining with him afterwards, explaining in detail exactly what he saw Musiala's future role with the Germany senior team being in a process that echoed US Soccer's recruitment of another England target, Yunus Musah of Valencia. Löw's words chimed with Musiala's mindset of never standing still.
Keen to take responsibility
His appetite to improve is insatiable, spending significant time developing his heading with long-time Bayern coach Hermann Gerland, for example. Standing 5ft 9in, he scored a soaring header in a win at Wolfsburg shortly after. With his keenness to take responsibility in ferrying the ball through central and wide areas alike, there is a growing clamour in Germany for Musiala to be given an even bigger role against England. In the aftermath of the Hungary game, Lothar Matthäus told the Guardian that Löw has continued to pick players who "don't have the level of performance" and called for Musiala to be thrown in from the start for the last-16 match.
The reality is that without Löw’s personal contribution, Musiala could have been lining up for the home side on Tuesday. If the midfielder develops into what those around him believe he is good enough to, he could well be the coach’s parting gift to the Nationalmannschaft after a few tricky years at the end of a largely successful long-term tenure. – Guardian