Germany kicked off their World Cup campaign with an emphatic 4-0 win against Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal. It was their biggest-ever win over Seleccao das Quinas and a great start for one of the tournament favorites.
Thomas Muller's hat-trick and Pepe's early red card were the biggest talking points, but it was a newly transformed German team that should get all the plaudits following their inspiring performance.
The mood among Germany supporters was largely sombre after the team suffered setback after setback with injuries leading up to the tournament.
Key players like Ilkay Gundogan and Marco Reus were hit with tournament-ending injuries while others like Mesut Ozil, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Miroslav Klose experienced a worrying drop in form close to the opener in Brazil.
All that led Low Joachim Low to do some shuffling around. He brought several young players into the squad and began experimenting with the team's system and formation, culminating in what was one of the best performances from the team since the World Cup in South Africa four years ago.
The most notable departure was in the team's formation. Low switched from the 4-2-3-1 they have been using since 2008 to a new more compact and versatile 4-3-3, a formation that is meant to stabilize the team defensively and utilize the range of attackers more effectively.
The biggest piece of the puzzle in the new 4-3-3 was Philipp Lahm as the holding midfielder. Free from his usual fullback position and able to influence the game through the middle, Lahm gives Germany a greater sense of control and defensive cover.
Lahm in midfield also allows Low to optimize Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos, both at their best with someone covering behind them. Having three players in the middle compared to just two divides roles more clearly without compromising defensively.
In 2012 Khedira's forward runs often left space for teams to exploit through the middle but with Lahm and Kroos sitting and observing counter attacks, Germany were able to impose themselves on the game without succumbing on the break.
Low mentioned after the game that the players positioned themselves well to react to Portugal's counter-attacks, closing players like Raul Meireles and Joao Moutinho down instantly when regaining possession. It's something they practiced a lot in training and a crucial part of the new system.
Coupled with the new three-man midfield, Low has completely departed from utilizing attacking fullbacks and instead is using two centerbacks—Jerome Boateng and Benedikt Howedes. This too is meant to stabilize the defense and avoid conceding space on the counter.
Both played more conservative roles, but that in turn prevented Ronaldo or Nani from really impacting the game. The two Portuguese wingers were forced inside, where Germany simply recovered and redistributed the ball.
Finally, perhaps the most controversial change came in the attack. Low abandoned the use of a traditional striker altogether and deployed an interchangeable front three, one of which was Mesut Ozil.
To truly get the best out of Germany's many talented attackers, he needed to make space up front and provide them a platform on which to truly express themselves.
In Mario Gotze, Ozil, Muller, Andre Schurrle and Lukas Podolski, Germany have players that can both score and create. There is no reason to tie them down to separate roles. Rather, a degree of freedom within a disciplined yet rotating system suits them best as the Portugal game proved.
3 - Only 3 players were younger than Thomas Müller when scoring their 8th goal at a #FifaWorldCup: Eusebio, Leonidas and Gerd Müller. Rocket— OptaFranz (@OptaFranz) June 16, 2014
Furthermore, in Thomas Muller, Low always had a natural goalscorer on the team, and the choice to play him centrally against Portugal proved that a traditional striker is simply not necessary.
Muller's knack for being in the right place at the right time did not interfere with him constantly rotating with Ozil and Mario Gotze, and the three complemented each other very well in attack.
The biggest change in attack is the removal of Ozil's responsibility to be the primary creative outlet of the team. However, the Arsenal player has experience playing a wider role and provides Germany with a great outlet out wide on the counter.
After months of experimenting, Low has finally managed to solidify the defense, find a solution to the striker dilemma and balance the team.
At this rate Germany have a very good chance of finally ending their 18-year trophy drought.