Germany's Key Weapon and Achilles' Heel at 2014 World Cup

Mark LovellFeatured ColumnistJune 10, 2014

All hail the German Messi!
All hail the German Messi!Michael Probst/Associated Press

The wait is almost over for Joachim Low’s Germany side to unleash his key weapon, Mario Gotze, whilst a suspect defence is sure to prove their Achilles’ heel at the 2014 World Cup.


Key Weapon: "The German Messi"

It’s now time for the supremely talented 22-year-old Gotze to live up to the star billing once afforded to him by none other than German legend, The Kaiser himself, Franz Beckenbauer.

Beckenbauer waxed lyrical shortly after the then-teenage Gotze burst onto the scene for Germany and Borussia Dortmund, per BBC Sport:

He is an instinctive footballer, just like Messi. He runs through opponents as though they aren't there. It’s impossible to stop Mario Gotze. He has the same assets as Messi.

Gotze’s first goal for Germany against Brazil in his first-ever starting appearance did little to dampen the weight of expectation.

At club level, arguably more was expected from Bayern Munich’s €37 million acquisition from bitter rivals Dortmund, but 10 goals in 20 starts (plus seven as a substitute) is a best-ever Bundesliga goal return for “Gotzinho”.

The gifted Gotze has fired nine goals in just 13 starts for the national side—with a further 16 substitute appearances adding to his international experience.

Two goals came in Mainz on Friday night in another lively 15-minute cameo as the Germans cantered to a 6-1 final tune-up victory over Armenia.

Under Low and his predecessors, Germany has predominantly played 4-2-3-1 with record goalscorer Miroslav Klose spearheading the attack. In the blink of an eye it becomes a 4-3-3 with attacking midfielders pushing on, or even a 4-2-4, with Low’s prized playmaker Mesut Ozil weaving his magic close to the lone striker, normally Klose.

Friday’s victory was overshadowed by Marco Reus’s ankle injury. The fitness of the aging Klose is still very much a worry, so it’s hard to envisage the 36-year-old starting many matches in his fourth World Cup campaign.

The coach will need a Plan B up his sleeve, with the de rigueur tactic—playing without an out-and-out striker—a preferred variation from Germany’s traditional 4-2-3-1 system.

Gotze is perfect for this "false nine" role, and will no doubt rotate with his Munich team-mate Thomas Mueller.

Look for Low to also use the diminutive dribbler off the bench as an impact player in the sapping heat against tiring defences.

Gotze, the game-changer with an eye for goal, is a brilliant attacking option for Low to have up his sleeve—adept at slipping seamlessly into any attacking formation.

Like Messi, Gotze made his international debut at the age of 18, and the stage is set for the Bayern attacker to become a Low legend in Brazil. 


Achilles’ Heel 

One has to go all the way back 24 years to 1990 since (West) Germany last won a World Cup, and Germany sides have come up agonisingly short under in their last three tournaments.

Germany’s Achilles’ heel is undoubtedly their defending. Despite blasting a record 36 goals in 10 qualification matches, the critics chose to concentrate on the 10 conceded—seven of which were shipped against the Swedes.

England striking legend Gary Lineker once famously quipped during Germany’s glory days: "Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and, in the end, the Germans win.’’

On a damp autumnal evening in Berlin, Germany somehow let a seemingly impregnable 4-0 lead slip to allow an ordinary Swedish side a share of the spoils in a remarkable 4-4 World Cup qualifier.

After Germany’s 30-minute defensive blackout against Sweden, Lineker quickly re-evaluated, via Twitter:

Football is a simple game where 22 men kick a ball about for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans lose a 4 goal lead

— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) October 16, 2012

Fitness clouds still hang over Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger, so Low is likely to use his dependable skipper Philipp Lahm in defensive midfield. However, Lahm’s redeployment to bolster midfield could potentially serve to further weaken a fragile back line.

Jerome Boateng looks set to slot in at right-back, also not his preferred position, but he has performed well against Cristiano Ronaldo, for example, in that role in the past.

Shooting-star Erik Durm (one cap), who started his career as a striker, has only played 29 Bundesliga games and will battle Schalke’s captain Benedikt Hoewedes to fill in at left-back. Kevin Grosskreutz seems to have frittered away his chances of a regular start, at least for the time being, with an alcohol-fuelled incident on the eve of the tournament.

Mats Hummels and Per Mertesacker are set to form the central-defensive combination, which would harness all the key ingredients of speed of mind and body, experience, ability and composure into a less fragile-looking back line.

Having arguably the world's best goalkeeper in their ranks should help take the pressure off a potentially creaky defensive unit.

Manuel Neuer is a modern-day goalkeeping quarterback: He is adept at receiving back passes and accurately distributing the ball—a role he performs outstandingly at club level. With your last man technically acting as "libero," thereby adding an 11th outfield player, you are creating a man advantage in your own half.

Neuer hasn’t played since damaging a shoulder in Bayern’s double-clinching cup final win in Berlin. Backup keeper Roman Weidenfeller is a more than capable understudy, but is nowhere near Neuer’s level.

However, Neuer is expected to be fit, enabling the Germans to keep a higher defensive line with increased use of the offside trap while also utilizing the keeper’s speed off his line to nullify opposition attacks. This would give added confidence and security by keeping opponents far away from the business end of the pitch.

Bearing their defensive frailty in mind, the Germans are sure to attack and simply try to outscore the opposition.