Germany fail to convince at Maracanã but they still march on to semi-final date
Victory over France was tense, error-strewn and largely uninspiring
Good job . . . Germany’s Miroslav Klose is congratulated by coach Joachim Löw after their victory over France at the Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro. Photograph: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters
Whenever Joachim Löw is asked at a press conference about some episode from the past, he answers that his Germany team pays no attention to history. Why would players born between the mid-1980s and early 1990s care about things that happened years before they were born?
Then again, Philipp Lahm is fond of referring to Germany as “the great football nation” and a football nation this great can’t escape its history. Sometimes it gets thrown at them in ways that make you sympathise. Two nights before yesterday’s match in Rio, the Brazilian channel Sport TV had illustrated their France-Germany preview with footage of German troops marching down the Champs Elysees in 1940, under the sullen gaze of the conquered Parisians.
Luckily that kind of history isn’t usually dragged up when Germany play football matches but in Brazil they have been dogged by inglorious episodes from their football history at almost every turn. The year 1982 seems to be the particular retro vintage fate has chosen for 2014.
It was one of the West German campaigns that did most to establish the country’s identity as the bad guys of international football. There was violence, collusion and unsporting behaviour, and at the end most of the world was celebrating with Marco Tardelli as he scored the goal that confirmed Germany would not go home with the Cup.
Yesterday they came up against France, the side they had defeated in the epic 1982 semi-final, coming back like terminators in extra-time to draw 3-3 and win on penalties. Most of the neutrals had wanted the exciting French side to reach the final, even before Harald Schumacher’s awful foul on Patrick Battiston.
If only the match at the Maracanã had been a little more like that classic in Seville 32 years ago, minus the head injuries. Instead, France flopped and Germany made it three wins out of four against them in the World Cup without having to play well. France were unmasked as flat-track bullies – good at shooting turkeys, no ideas or leadership when they were under pressure against a side that didn’t make basic mistakes.
Germany’s history has been a constant irritation for the current side. Their football has been fine. Nobody has a problem with it. The question has been, when is this generation going to turn all the pretty football into a title? Their predecessors might occasionally have shamed the shirt in the eyes of the world, but they also put three gold stars on it. That is the standard against which these players will be judged.
In five matches in Brazil Germany have showed almost nothing to suggest they should be World Champions. Take away the audacity and energy of Thomas Müller, and the cool precision of Toni Kroos, and there is little about their play that is world class.
The most memorable feature of their games has been the sight of the goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer, charging from his goal to boot the ball into the crowd. There have been some slick counter-attacking moves but lots of wasteful finishing. There has been some impressive last-ditch defending – like Hummels’ block on Benzema late in the match yesterday – but also basic errors and sloppiness.
Löw restored Lahm to the right-back role the media critics had been demanding. And yet on the evidence of this match he should put him straight back into central midfield. Schweinsteiger was poor and Khedira was not much better; a more confident side than France would have punished their multiple errors of distribution. If Löw does decide to restore Lahm to that area of the field, at least he now has a compelling case to do so.
Again, Germany have failed to convince. And yet there they are, in the semi-finals, awaiting either Brazil or Colombia. If they can play well in the semis and the final, nobody will remember the uncertain performances that got them there.
This unobtrusive progress to the final stages is exactly the sort of thing Germany used to do in the old days. Maybe this generation has at last managed to reconnect with that priceless strand of their history.