Why the 1990 West German Side Would Finish Second at the 2014 World Cup

Stefan Bienkowski@@SbienkowskiFeatured ColumnistJune 11, 2014

Germany soccer team players celebrate after winning the Soccer World Cup final in the Olympic Stadium, in Rome, Italy, on July 8, 1990. Germany defeated Argentina 1-0 to win the cup. Player lifting the cup is German captain Lothar Matthaus. German soccer coach Franz Beckenbauer, in dark jacket, is seen behind Matthaus. (AP Photo/Carlo Fumagalli)
CARLO FUMAGALLI/Associated Press

Germany will go into this coming World Cup in Brazil in the knowledge that their proud nation has never gone so long without lifting football's greatest prize. 

From Fritz Walter's 1954 team that stunned the world with a smash-and-grab 3-2 win over the mighty Hungary side of its day to the 1974 side of Franz Beckenbauer, Paul Breitner and Gerd Mueller that won the famous trophy on home soil and the 1990 side that last won the World Cup in Italy, Germany has had a proud history in this competition. Expect Joachim Low's side to continue that trend this summer. 

But where exactly would the last great German side finish in this summer's festival of football?

To begin deciphering just where this West German side would end up, we must first take a look at their modern day counterparts under Low and decide just which team would come out on top.

Of course, this shouldn't take too long to decide at all: It's the 1990 West German side without a shadow of a doubt. I'll explain why. 

Loew's side are expected to win the World Cup this year
Loew's side are expected to win the World Cup this yearClive Mason/Getty Images

Like all great sides, the German team under Beckenbauer had a fantastic spine of three great players. Yet unlike the conventional methods of defensive solidity coming from a centre-back, the first of these three heroes was in fact a full-back by the name of Andreas Brehme. 

The position of full-back is often overlooked in most teams, yet Brehme was a player who truly defined the importance of a solid left-back in a tournament that most teams chose to approach with defensive trepidation rather than naive attacking flair. 

It's here that we first see the strength of this side overcome what the current German side can offer, with Low's side looking to feature three if not four centre-backs across his back line. A ploy to straighten out any defensive problems that have haunted his side of late, perhaps, but it means we could have a team without any attacking flair at all from deep. 

This brings us on to our second part of the special 1990 trinity; the goalscoring talent of Jurgen Klinsmann. Like Brehme, Klinsmann not only stands out due to what he accomplished in Italy that summerscoring three goals on the way to the finalbut also for what he represented as a player and how it differs so much from this year's Germany squad. 

The current U.S. coach may be better remembered in England for his antics at White Hart Lane, but his presence as a complete forward for Germany is something that has long being missing from this current Low side.

Where Germany used to bully defenses and score for fun, we now seem to have a team that will likely start with either young Mario Gotze or the ageing Miroslav Klose at the front of their attack. Two good players, but neither really compare to Klinsmann at this moment in time. 

It's this gulf in class between one individual to the next which brings us to Lothar Matthaus: the captain of this era-defining 1990 side and undoubtedly the embodiment of everything that was so great about this team. 

If the 1986 World Cup belonged to Diego Maradona, then the summer of 1990 was Matthaus' to claim as his own. 

Dogged and industrious in closing down at the heart of Germany's midfield, it was only once he had stolen the ball from an opponent that we saw the best of the Bayern legend. Like a hardened Cristiano Ronaldo who had long gave up the will to score the "perfect goal," here he would simply slide, thump and dribble his way past one to the next. A player of absolute skill and physical perfection.

Matthaus was quite simply the best player in the world that year, and unfortunately for their fans, Germany can't possibly claim to have a player of that stature in their ranks for this summer's competition. 

What we must also remember about the 1990 competition is the fact that it was one of the first truly modern World Cups. Defensive football had taken hold of the sport, and being just a few years before FIFA would introduce the pass-back rule, it was also a summer that saw the West Germans take to the task of breaking down some of the best back lines that the tournament had ever seen.

It's this tactical characteristic of the time that gives even more strength to the argument that Beckenbauer's side could have overcome some of the best teams in this coming World Cup.

Comparing old sides to their modern-day counterparts is often no more than a hypothetical waste of time. Yet having won a tournament with a lower goals-per-game average than any other before or since, with a record 16 red cards throughout as well, it must be safe to say that these world champions deserve their claims to being one of the best attacking sides to have ever graced the modern game. 

It's through this theory alone that we can then begin to lay claim to the West German sides' chances against the likes of other World Cup favourites such as Spain, Brazil and Argentina. 

The first opponent to Beckenbauer's side would be Lionel Messi's Argentina. Here we have a side packed with talent and none other than the best player in world football at the moment. Yet this German side have come up against similar Argentinian teams in the past. 

It was Diego Maradona's reigning world champions that Matthaus and Co. overcame in the 1990 final, and despite the superior talent on Argentina's team sheet on the day, it was the Germans who looked more composed and prepared for the fight.

Brehme's dubious penalty aside, it was a humbling experience for the South American side, and with little difference in how the team now rely on Messi, it would seem that the West Germans would again have this side figured out. 

It's only once we get down to the proposed finalists of this coming tournamentthe hosts Brazil and current holders Spainthat we begin splitting hairs over which side could defeat the next. 

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - JUNE 06:  Neymar of Brazil runs with the ball during the International Friendly Match between Brazil and Serbia at Morumbi Stadium on June 06, 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)
Buda Mendes/Getty Images

For perfectly good reasons, Luiz Felipe Scolari's side would go down as slight underdogs against the might of Vicente Del Bosque's current European and World champions. The Brazilian coach may already be a World Cup winner in his own right, but as a tactician he tends to oversimplify things and rely solely on the use of the individual talent within his squads. 

It's here that we would potentially see this current Brazil side falter against the West Germans. As Maradona's, Paul Gascoigne's and Ronald Koeman's own teams of the 1990 competition faltered under the collective might of Germany, so too would young Neymar's Brazil. 

Where we figure Matthaus' team would meet its match is against this current Spain side. Not only are the tiki-taka champions the greatest side of the modern era, but with their unique style of possession-based football it would be simply impossible to predict just how a team as direct as this West German side could handle such a task. 

Unfortunately it would more than likely be a case of the West German approach of physical, attacking football falling directly into the hands of Spain's plans, allowing the likes of David Silva and Cesc Fabregas to counter and exploit like they have done on so many occasions since 2008. 

There's a very good chance that Del Bosque's side will go on to retain the World Cup this summer and with it make a strong claim to being the best side to have ever graced the beautiful game, a team no opponent should be ashamed of finishing second tonot even the great West German side of 1990. 


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