Thursday, January 18, 2018
Sports

Germany's World Cup machine starts with youth

BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil — Much is made of Brazil's jogo bonito — the beautiful game — with slick passes, hip-swiveling dribblers, joyful celebrations, and internationally known stars such as Pele, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, and newest sensation Neymar, who will miss today's semifinal against Germany with a fractured vertebra.

The German team, on the other hand, conjures images of a well-oiled, drama-free machine: organized, efficient and powerful. Germany, a three-time World Cup champion, has a reputation for tough defense and predictable success. The Germans have reached 10 of the past 13 World Cup semifinals, including the past four, but have not won the title since 1990.

Now the Germans have an offensive-minded, fast-paced, attacking style with technically gifted players such as Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos and Mario Gotze. That's why many experts predict Germany will beat a depleted Brazil team and go on to win tournament.

Die Mannschaft has become, dare we say, a scoring machine.

Germany led UEFA in World Cup qualifying with 36 goals.

Players in Germany's league, the Bundesliga, have scored 30 goals in this World Cup, more than any other league. They also lead the tournament in assists (23). Muller of Bayern Munich has four goals and nine in his past 10 World Cup games. That total puts him tied for 13th all time in World Cup scoring.

And Muller is 24.

The leagues in Spain, England and Italy might be more glamorous, but Germany's top league is making the biggest mark here, as it did in the 2013 Champions League, Europe's top club competition, when Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund met in an all-German final.

U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, a former German national team star and coach who played 10 of his 19 professional seasons in the Bundesliga, is not surprised.

"One of the strengths of the German side has been consistency," Klinsmann said. "Consistency and performing at the highest level, at the biggest stage, which is every two years in a European Championship or a World Cup. They find ways to make it to the end of the tournaments."

In 2002, two years after Germany's shocking exit from the European championships after the group stage, the Bundesliga ruled that the 36 teams in the first and second divisions had to set up talent academies and boarding schools for promising young players. When Klinsmann coached the 2006 German World Cup team, the roster included Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and Lukas Podolski, and the first academy products.

Now those players are the veterans on today's roster, which, like the 2010 World Cup team, is stacked with young talent.

German fans flocked to Brazil in huge numbers for this World Cup, and with high expectations.

"The expectations in Germany are very simple; they've always got to win it," said Klinsmann, who coached the team to a third-place finish in 2006. "That's just how it is. Third place or second place doesn't mean much to the fans and the people there."

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