Algeria Expose Germany's Achilles' Heel: A Lack of Athleticism

Clark WhitneyFeatured ColumnistJune 30, 2014

Neuer repeatedly had to come off his line.
Neuer repeatedly had to come off his line.Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

Fitness was a real concern for Germany heading into the World Cup, with injuries to Marco Reus, Ilkay Gundogan, Sven and Lars Bender, Mario Gomez and just about every full-back option, leaving Joachim Low with a decimated squad.

Add to that a lack of match fitness for Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil and Manuel Neuer as they returned from injuries, and it was clear that the Mannschaft would find it hard to hit top form, especially against physical opponents. That much showed against Ghana in the group stage, in a match that ended in a 2-2 draw.

If the Ghana clash wasn't enough to convince, Algeria exposed Germany as slow, weak and entirely lacking in power in Monday's round of 16 match, especially in the first half.

In the opening minutes alone, Manuel Neuer repeatedly had to come out of his box to play the role of "sweeper keeper," bailing out a back line comprised of the woefully slow Per Mertesacker, Benedikt Howedes and Shkodran Mustafi as well as the not-especially-quick Jerome Boateng. Neuer's sprint race with, and subsequent tackle of, Islam Slimani in the ninth minute was as ominous as it was spectacular to watch.

After 45 minutes of playing at breakneck pace, Algeria's intensity dropped off somewhat and Germany were able to play. But by that point, the Mannschaft could have been at least a goal or two behind. They had in every category been found lacking in physicality.

PORTO ALEGRE, BRAZIL - JUNE 30:  Andre Schuerrle of Germany scores his team's first goal past goalkeeper Rais M'Bolhi of Algeria in extra time during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Round of 16 match between Germany and Algeria at Estadio Beira-Rio on June
Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

Per, Germany's back four of Mustafi, Mertesacker, Boateng and Howedes reached top speeds of 25.5, 25.2, 26.8 and 28.7 km/hr, respectively, in the first half.

Their support in midfield was provided by the slowest outfielder on the pitch, Philipp Lahm (21 km/hr), as well as Bastian Schweinsteiger (27.8) and Toni Kroos (29). Both of Algeria's wingers, as well as the forward Slimani, reached speeds in excess of even Germany's fastest runner who, perhaps surprisingly, was Kroos.

Top speed only tells part of the story, but there are no statistics that describe acceleration or agility. And Germany lacked in both areas.

Although their strength allows Howedes and Mustafi to function well in central defense, the two were torn apart on the wings by the fleet-footed Faouzi Ghoulam and Sofiane Feghouli. And after escaping Howedes, the latter managed to slalom dribble past Boateng as well for an early chance.

As much as Germany lacked in pace, they also lacked in physical strength in midfield. Lahm is listed by ESPN at just 5'6" inches and 141 pounds while Kroos, although 6'0" and 172 pounds, is nowhere near the physical presence that Sami Khedira or even Schweinsteiger is.

Things changed significantly for Germany after the break, suggesting that Algeria perhaps overextended themselves. And the introduction of Khedira to the midfield and the faster and stronger Andre Schurrle for forward Mario Gotze brought a big improvement from the Germans. They finally had the athletes to compete with Algeria, at least in some positions.

Germany will have to negotiate tougher tasks than they faced against Algeria, however, if they are to win their fourth World Cup. Against a fitter team with fast, explosive players who are conditioned enough to maintain a high intensity for the full 90 minutes and against players who are more lethal in front of goal, Germany's weakness may well be exploited.

They next face a France side that have an extra day's rest and only had to play 90 minutes against Nigeria. Les Bleus will favor their odds of advancing.


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