Germany's Group D opening match against Australia could not have gone any better last night. The Germans bagged four goals and completed a masterful 91% of their passes en route to a 4-0 drubbing of the Socceroos.
The only time "Germany" and "Beautiful Game" had been mentioned in the same sentence prior to last night was if Germany was facing Brazil. However, last night's onslaught showcased a new style of German football that caught the attention of even the most devout Brazil and Spain supporters.
Die Mannschaft's young players elevated their game and dispatched any sour notion of inexperience or having too much hype prior to the World Cup. Mesut Oezil looked like an assassin on the pitch, Khedira and Schweinsteiger controlled the action in the midfield, while forwards Klose and Podolski both netted a score.
Everything seemed to go right, and the football world is abuzz with what lies ahead for this new and high-powered German squad.
However, that may be just the problem.
Germany may not have looked like they missed their injured captain Michael Ballack on the field last night, but his absence sure will be felt off of it these next five days.
What manager Joachim Loew has on his hands right now is a young team. We know they're talented, and they've just gotten off to a dream start, but they still need to tweak their game if they want to finish atop what is shaping up to be a tough group.
Michael Ballack was a very talented midfielder in his day, and we knew what to expect from him if he were fit enough to play. While he would've been reduced to a holding midfield role, he would have been the glue of the German team as he helped bring along Germany's talented youth.
Now is when Ballack's presence and leadership would have counted for Germany. Ballack's experience would have helped immensely to keep the young and excited Germans at an even keel and to keep his team focused as they prepared for their next game.
What we saw on Sunday was a talented offensive team destroy an abysmal Australian side. Not discounting the quality of the win, Germany did not face a very tough test and truthfully should have converted more chances.
Loew has admitted to ESPN that "There's still room for improvement". The question is whether Loew's ability as a coach will be great enough to re-focus a riled-up team and get results on the training ground. Without a veteran leader who commands authority on the pitch like Ballack, Loew's task may turn out to be more difficult than expected.
One word that has always been synonymous with German football is "discipline". The players may have hit their offensive stride on the field, but what the Germans need more of now is the discipline to turn their attention to the next game and avoid the media frenzy that is singing their praises and inflating their egos in South Africa and around the World.
Had Ballack been fit for the 2010 Cup, he would have undoubtedly been the player to implement this brand of discipline. Whether or not new captain Philipp Lahm or any other veteran German player can fill Ballack's shoes will be one of the main questions the German team needs to answer in their next game against Serbia.
The Serbs, who dropped a big opening match to an impressive Ghana side, will enter Friday's game with a fire and hunger that Germany will need to match if they want to get a result. Complacency after a great result against Australia is not an option. A loss for Germany throws a wrench into Group D and brings the high-flying Germans crashing back down to Earth.
In the up and down world of Group play, a successful team needs a veteran player to weather the storm when the going gets tough and keep everyone in check when things seem to be going swimmingly.
Michael Ballack was that veteran player for Germany.
Life without Ballack for the Germans didn't start on May 17th when he was ruled out of the World Cup, life without Ballack starts now.
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