FIFA World Cup 2010:Why the Surprise at Germany's Starlets?
For me, one of the biggest surprises of the 2010 World Cup is the furore and disbelief surrounding the performances of the German national team. The British media especially seem taken aback by the fantastic play the nationalmannschaft have displayed so far.
Why? It's common knowledge this Germany team had massive potential, and combined with the nation's brilliant record in nurturing young talent, it really should come as no surprise that the Germans are making an impact.
Sure, they are missing the like of Michael Ballack and Torsten Frings (through injury and selection preference respectively), but it seems the Germans are using these omissions to their advantage. Ballack's injury may be a blessing in disguise; he can sometimes be the Steven Gerrard of Germany and try too much at once, resulting in a hindrance rather than a help.
Of course, the lack of Ballack has allowed Mesut Özil to emerge into the public eye.
The hype surrounding him is merited, but those who follow German football would know that at Özil's club Werder Bremen currently have an abundance of young talent in their ranks and that the young playmaker has been making waves in the country for a year or two now. His teammate Marko Marin has also made some exciting substitute performances from the bench for the national team.
Frings's omission has been forgotten about due to Bastian Schweinsteiger's successful conversion to central midfield and the tenacious performances displayed by young Sami Khedira next to him.
Khedira captained Germany to their emphatic win to the Euro Under-21 Championships last year, and he and Özil are not the only ones from that successful squad who are shining in South Africa.
After the tragic suicide of Robert Enke last year, Germany were not only left to mourn the loss of a great man, but also have a goalkeeping crisis for the finals. Germany have lacked a truly top-class keeper since Oliver Kahn's retirement (Jens Lehmann was a little too erratic), and the loss of Enke, widely believed to be Germany's new No. 1 choice, put them in a difficult position.
Their answer was to turn to Schalke 04's rough diamond Manuel Neuer, who so far has performed brilliantly in the group stage. He has conceded just one goal so far, Serbia's Milan Jovanovic taking advantage while the Germans were still regrouping from Miroslav Klose's contentious sending-off.
The likes of Phillip Lahm, Lukas Podolski, and the aforementioned Schweinsteiger are also still all relatively young, with another World Cup being within feasible reach for all, if not another two.
The fact Germany have other youngsters waiting to get into these positions is a testimony to their strength in depth; for example, both Jerome Boateng and Gonzalo Castro are hugely rated in their homeland, but neither can get past Lahm in the starting 11. Castro could not even make the squad.
The likes of Kiessling, Tasci, Jansen, Trochowski, and Kroos, all great performers in the Bundesliga last season, have also found themselves being on the fringes of the squad or playing a bit-part role in the final group game.
Germany come up against England next, and not only is it a (perhaps sadly premature) revival of one of world football's great rivalries, but it as also a meeting between the second youngest squad in the tournament versus the second-oldest.
After England's unconvincing win against Slovenia, the British media seem to be strangely confident of beating the old enemy on Sunday, citing the Germans' "lack of experience" as a potentially deciding factor. Based on the showings so far, the young Germans don't seem to be showing any inexperience, and with the prize of English scalps on offer, no doubt they'll be more fired up than ever before.
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