Will Hans-Dieter Flick mastermind for the next evolution of the German National team?

July 2021 marks the end of era in history of the German National team with the charismatic manager, Joachim Löw taking his last bow for ‘die mannschaft’ after the Euro 2020. Löw took over as manager after the 2006 World Cup and transformed the team fortunes leading them to World Cup victory in Brazil in 2014. His 15-year tenure revolutionized Germany’s identity as a nation and a leader in global football.  

The 1990 World Cup signified a turning point in its history. A mere few months after West Germany’s win at that tournament, they reunified with their Eastern counterpart forming the now known unified Germany. Instead of building on that success, Germany struggled to find its footing on the international scene. They did managed to win the 1996 European Championships in England but with an aging squad. There were also promising signs at the 2006 World Cup as well which was on home turf. Despite a semi-final exit, they showed the world a fun summer World Cup (breaking the typical stern-faced German stereotypes) and bright young talents (Lukas Podolski, Per Mertesacker, Bastian Schweinsteiger) got to shine on the big stage.

Exit stage right – Low is set to depart from the German National job after Euro 2020

The German footballing authority looked to build on this momentum with a new manager (Löw) with fresh ideologies to foster the young and hungry talents that the country bore. The emergence of Pep Guardiola and the Tiki-Taka footballing philosophy along with Spain’s dominance at Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 only strengthened the notion that change was needed. International success usually comes on the heel of domestic success at club level. But German football clubs at the time were struggling to compete with clubs in the more opulent European leagues.

So, the clubs in german pivoted towards a new approach focused on developing home grown players and investing in young and upcoming managers with new ideas for long term success. The move would turn out to be a watershed moment in german football. Case in point, Jurgen Klöpp who brought success to Borussia Dortmund through recruitment and development of young players by educating them on a new chic of counter pressing style of football labelled Gegenpressing. This put Dortmund back on to the big stage again after breaking the Bundesliga dominance held by Bayern Munich with successive domestic titles.

Jurgen Klopp is one of several managers who benefited from a change in mindset in german football

This period of time in the Bundesliga also clubs spend more on international talent recruitment. It coincided with Germany as a country opening its borders more to immigrants in the hope of creating a new national identity and providing an economic stimulus. Some of the then “unknown gems” to shine in the German league at this time included Shinji Kagawa, Heung-Min Son and Roberto Firmino to name a few. Dortmund also produced several young talented german players who would go on to make up the core of the German national team that won the World Cup in 2014. Even now, the approach is being replicated with several german clubs entrusting younger managers who can relate and understand the new generation of players like Thomas Tüchel and Julian Nagelsmann.

This thinking will likely also be applied to the selection of the new German national manager once Low departs. The German national team managerial job is a highly coveted position with a long line of history and pride so finding willing applicants should not be an issue. However selecting the right manager who can work with a new crop of exciting german players is the priority. Last year, four of the top five managers in European football were German coaches (Jurgen Klopp, Hans-Dieter Flick, Thomas Tüchel and Julian Nagelsmann); all of whom got their respective starts in management at a young age. Of them, Bayern Munich’s Hans-Dieter Flick seems to be the best fit for the national job. He was Joachim Löw’s assistant from 2006-2014 with the German National team before getting the nod for managerial career to begin in the Bundesliga on an interim basis taking over from Niko Kovac at Bayern. After getting the managerial job on full time basis, he guided the Bundesliga champions to a continental treble including the Champions League which he won against the Thomas Tuchel led Paris Saint Germain.

Flick waves goodbye to Bayern and hello to the German National managers job

Flick recently expressed his interest in taking over as the next manager of the national team after announcing his own desire to leave Bayern. After a long internal political struggle, Bayern Munich relinquished any chances to change Flick’s mind and hired Julian Nagelsmann from RB Leipzig for the 2021-2022 season. After successfully leading 1899 Hoffenheim to their first Champions League qualification, he then led RB Leipzig to their first Champions league semi-final spot in 2020. Despite his young age (he’s still only 33), Nagelsmann was touted by several big names in Europe to lead their club.  Bayern Munich moved quickly to secure their man and signed Nagelsmann for a hefty sum (€25 million) in order to break his contract with RB Leipzig in a move of utter dominance.

The German FA can now make a move for Flick, their first choice to take over after the Euro 2020. And rightly so. Flick mastermind the reemergence of Bayern Munich as a dominant player in Europe after a disastrous spell under Carlo Ancelotti and Niko Kovac. Part of his masterplan was to pinpoint the key players in the squad who he could work closely with to change the tide. The resurgence of Thomas Müller behind the striker and Joshua Kimmich’s deep runs from central midfield provided a new dynamic flow to Bayern Munich’s football. Given his relationship with Bayern Munich squad who make up the core of German national team and the vast number of talented players playing across Europe, come the summer 2021 and beyond it is hard to see Germany going anywhere but forward.  

Post by Subhash Narasimhan, Contributor to BOTN

Down But Not Out – Scotland Now Prepare For Bare Knuckles Fight With Poland

If only points were awarded for effort in football, Scotland would surely have walked away with something last night against Germany. They put up a good fight twice coming back from going a goal behind but in the end left Hampden with nothing but a sore head and a bruised ego. It wasnt an unexpected result but stung nonetheless as Scotland’s chances of qualifying for Euro 2016 took another blow. The sucker punch however was not against the Germans but instead last Friday night in Tbilisi when Scotland were TKO’d by an old foe in the form of Georgia. In a fight they had to win, Scotland looked sluggish failing to connect with any of their jabs at the home team before suffering a fatal blow to the abdomen which they were unable to come back from.

Georgia's suckerpunch knocked Scotland for Six (Image from Getty)

Georgia’s sucker punch knocked Scotland for Six (Image from Getty)

Much like a well-traveled fighter, Scotland has a checkered past. It has some famous shock wins against the heavyweights of world football including France and Holland in qualification but for each one there are several bouts they look back on and can’t believe they lost. It’s the same story year after year for Scotland and their supporters who turn out in their droves regardless of how bad the pummeling will be. They watch helplessly as lesser opponents push Scotland to the ropes time and time again, first jabbing then slamming Scotland with a hook and an uppercut. The fans see Scotland bleeding and want the referee to call time early to save their prize-fighter. But he can’t and he won’t. Scotland must defend itself but it can’t, unable to push their opponent back and stop the onslaught. Disbelief fills the stadium as the fans remember how Scotland managed to push better opponents, the so-called heavyweights all the way to the twelfth round. They think If only Scotland could be consistent then perhaps they would have a shot at something great.

McArthur delivers a warning blow to the Germans which puts Scotland back in the fight (Image from PA)

McArthur delivers a warning blow to the Germans which puts Scotland back in the fight
(Image from PA)

Unlike in Tbilisi, the effort was more apparent against the current world champions. Scotland battled hard, trying to stay in the fight they now most desperately needed to win.Their defence looks solid, if not totally convincing and held of the German onslaught of intricate passes and probing shots for a majority of the tussle. Against Georgia the midfield was lethargic and failed to create any really opportunities for the lone frontman Steven Fletcher to strike. But against Germany, Scotland where throwing wild punches, often missing the mark all together but still trying to push back. Germany had seen it before in their last fight but this time looked concerned as the pair exchanged blows in the first half. Twice Muller tried to knock Scotland out but twice they responded, first through Maloney and then by McArthur. The fight was evenly balanced going into the break. German trainer Joachim Low delivered a stern warning to Germany that they needed to win this fight to take a step closer towards the Euro’s. He told them to step up a gear and finish Scotland once and for all. They did just that with the fatal blow happening just moments after the restart, a blow that knocked the wind out of Scotland and left them dazed and confused. As the referee ended the fight, Scotland trudged off the park believing all was lost and it may be.

Up Next Another Heavyweight - Poland (Image from AFP)

Up Next Another Heavyweight – Poland
(Image from AFP)

To make matters worse, Scotland must watch as Wales and Northern Ireland edge closer towards the Euros. Once considered poorer versions of Scotland, the duo have now leap ahead of their northern rival and are challenging the heavyweights once more. The only chance Scotland has at redemption comes next month when they face up to another tough heavyweight in the form of Poland. They must win this fight and the following amateur bout against Gibraltar to stand any chance of reaching the play offs. Battered and bruised, Scotland must regroup and look deep inside themselves for the energy to go out in front of their home support once more and finally knock down a heavyweight. The gloves are officially off now as Scotland prepare to fight dirty in an effort to keep their dream of qualification alive.

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World Cup Hangover Hands Hope To Europe’s Smaller Nations

Three games played and maximum points obtained for Northern Ireland and Iceland has placed them in a good position in their quest to end their respective hiatuses from international competitions. Having never qualified for the European Championships and possessing only limited exposure at World Cups (Northern Ireland have qualified three times – 1958, 1982 and 1986 whilst Iceland have never made it) both nations are desperate to qualify for France 2016. The startling improvements in both sides over recent years have given hope to their legions of fans who are praying that this is the time that they will make it. Having suffered heartbreak during the last World Cup qualifying campaign by narrowly missing out thanks to a playoff defeat by Croatia, Iceland have once again stepped up and are showcasing  the talents of what many are describing as a new golden generation. Convincing wins over Turkey and Latvia were swiftly followed by a shock 2-0 win over Holland on Monday past that has left Lars Lagerbeck’s side top of Group A, level on points with the Czech Republic. To suggest Holland were off the pace would be accurate with their World Cup heroic’s still heavy on their legs but credit must be given to Iceland who battled hard and created several good chances throughout the game and deserved the points. Whilst Holland licks their wounds under new coach Guus Hiddink, Iceland can prepare for their next game against the Czech’s safe in the knowledge that significant progress has been made in their bid to qualify for France.

Iceland continue to show improvements with a well fought 2-0 win over Holland (Image from Getty)

Iceland continue to show improvements with a well fought 2-0 win over Holland
(Image from Getty)

In Group F, Northern Ireland gave their chances a dramatic boost with three stunning wins over the Faroe Islands, Hungary and Greece putting them top of the pile. Norwich striker Kyle Lafferty has been in exceptional form scoring in all three games but it’s at the back that Northern Ireland have looked so impressive. Roy Carroll has rolled back the years with a series of fine performances in goal whilst Aaron Hughes and Gareth McAuley have marshaled the defense against some top opposition. In the last game against Greece in particular, the Northern Irish backline stifled attack after attack by the Greeks who like Holland have failed to spark under a new manager, Claudio Ranieri. The group is far from over for Northern Ireland with a long way still to go including tough matches against Finland, Romania and Greece to come but manager Michael O’Neill will take much optimism from the performances of his team in their opening few games which has left his side with a strong chance of qualification.

Lafferty sinks Greece (Image from Getty)

Lafferty sinks Greece
(Image from Getty)

The World Cup hangover appears to have affected several of Europe’s top nations including its current world champions. Having gone all the way in Brazil, Germany looked odds on favourites to top their group and progress to the European Championships in France for a shot at winning an historic double. But it would appear that the hangover from the party following their World Cup win has not yet subsided after three below par performances. One win, a draw and a shock defeat to Poland has Joachim Low’s team lying in third place in the group on four points with it all to do. After the retirement of the influential defensive pair of Philip Lahm and Per Mertesacker, Germany have looked less than convincing at the back. Manager Joachim Low has drafted in several potential solutions but none look as convincing as the exiting duo. Germany’s problems are not just limited to the back either with issues upfront as well. With Miroslav Klose finally calling time on his international career and an injury to Chelsea’s Andreas Schurrle, the World champions have struggled to convert the simplest of chances in their last three games. In total Germany created 35 chances in their opening group games against Scotland, Poland and Republic of Ireland converting only three of them. Borussia Monchengladbach striker Max Kruse has been identified as the successor to Klose’s crown but has yet to replicate his goal scoring club form on the international stage.

Kruse has yet to replicate his club form for Germany (Image from PA)

Kruse has yet to replicate his club form for Germany
(Image from PA)

Scotland’s chances of reaching their first international tournament in over 16 years stayed on track with a well fought 2-2 draw with Poland. After losing to Germany in game one and then beating Georgia at Ibrox on Saturday by a single goal, Gordon Strachan’s team travelled to Warsaw to face a buoyant Poland, who had surprised many with their 2-0 win over Germany. The game was ninety minutes full of end to end action with neither team willing to walk away with nothing. In the end a draw was a fair result and leaves both teams in contention for qualification. Next up for Strachan and Scotland is a home match against Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland with both managers knowing that only three points will do in what is becoming an increasingly open group. Having held Germany to a 1-1 draw in their last match (thanks to a 94th minute equalizer by John O’Shea), the Republic travel to Glasgow next month with seven points from a possible nine. After collecting maximum points against Georgia and Gibraltar in the first two matches, the hard fought point against an arguably tougher foe in Germany will give the Republic of Ireland belief that they can beat Scotland in their own back yard. With all time leading goal scorer Robbie Keane back firing at all cylinders, the Scots will need to be cautious next month if they are to gain any points.

John O'Shea scores a last minute equalizer against Germany (Image from BPI/Kieran McManus)

John O’Shea scores a last minute equalizer against Germany
(Image from BPI/Kieran McManus)

Wales too are playing a cautious game after an impressive start to their qualifying campaign. Wins over Andorra and Cyprus plus a 0-0 draw with Bosnia has put Wales top of the group but with a series of difficult matches ahead against Belgium and Israel, Wales are taking nothing for granted. Led by the talents of Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale and Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey, this youthful looking Welsh side hold strong belief that they can reach France 2016 and end the welsh fans misery. Having only ever reached one World Cup (1958) and one European Championship (1976), the welsh fans have been starved of competitive international tournaments for too long and are now looking towards manager Chris Coleman and his new batch of players to correct this problem. Hope is high in the welsh valleys but like the Republic of Ireland, Iceland, Northern Ireland and Scotland there is still a long way to go.

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Di Matteo Dreaming Of Champions league Success One More After Joining Schalke

Champions League success targeted again by Di Matteo

After a brief hiatus, Roberto Di Matteo is back in football management after taking over at FC Schalke 04. The former Chelsea boss has been appointed by the German club, replacing the exiting Jens Keller.  Surprisingly it’s Di Matteo’s first job since leaving the London club almost two years ago. Di Matteo, who won a lot of praise for guiding Chelsea to the Champions League crown, takes over the Bundesliga strugglers with a clear mandate, to move Schalke back up the table and into Europe. The 44 year old joins the club sitting 13th place in the league and who were recently knocked out of the German Cup by lowly Dynamo Dresden. It would be the final straw for Schalke’s owners who were quick to sack Keller and replace him with the Italian.

Dynamo Dresden knocked Schalke out of the cup  (Image from Bild)

Dynamo Dresden knocked Schalke out of the cup
(Image from Bild)

Whilst many look at Schalke as one of Germany’s top teams given their rich history and their considerable wealth, the job itself will not be an easy one. Schalke’s owners are demanding and expect results within due course but this is something Di Matteo should be used to after his stint at Stamford Bridge under Roman Abramovich. Di Matteo will be joined by fellow Italians Massimo Battara and Attillio Lombardo at the club as part of his backroom staff which should make the transition back into football easier. The duos have been out of work since leaving Manchester City when Roberto Mancini was sacked in May 2013. What he does inherit is one of the brightest and most talented squads in the Bundesliga. Di Matteo will look to get the most out of his squad by focusing on building a team backbone consisting of seasoned professionals and youthful exuberance. Captain Benedikt Howedes, Kevin Prince Boateng, Tranquilo Barnetta and Klaas Jan Huntelaar will be expected to lead by example and show the youngsters at the club what it means to be a true professional much like he did at Chelsea.

New Schalke manager, Roberto Di Matteo  (Image from Getty)

New Schalke manager, Roberto Di Matteo
(Image from Getty)

Schalke has some of Germany’s brightest prospects coming through its ranks. Midfielders Leon Goretzka and Max Meyer are showing tremendous promise and have already been capped at full international level for Germany by Joachim Low whilst defender Joel Matip has already racked up 26 caps for Cameroon and starred at this year’s World Cup at aged 23. But it’s the exceptional talents of Julian Draxler that has most people at Schalke so excited. The skillful playmaker in known for his speed and ability on the ball and is seen by Low as the future of German football. Schalke have done well so far to hold on to him with interest growing across Europe with many believing it is only a matter of time before he moves on to a bigger team. That is unless Di Matteo can unlock his true potential and make him central to Schalke’s future plans. If the Italian coach can win Draxler over with his vision and promise for the club, it may be that the player decides to stay. Having signed an extension recently until 2018, Draxler is going nowhere at present but if Di Matteo cannot turn things around, then Schalke’s most promising prospect may seek a new adventure away from the Veltinis Arena.

Brightest prospect - Julian Draxler  (Image from Getty)

Brightest prospect – Julian Draxler
(Image from Getty)

Di Matteo starts his Bundesliga management career in nine days at home to Hertha Berlin and will be looking for his players to make an immediate impact. He has already revealed that he plans to be flexible with his formation based on which players are available. Di Matteo also admitted that he will be looking to utilize the entire first team squad as well as the clubs youth team especially given their commitments to the Champions League. After drawing both of their opening games in this year’s group stage, Di Matteo will be looking to gain the full six points in their next two games against Sporting Lisbon before he takes his new club back to England to face his old club, Chelsea. Having already won the tournament in the past and now in possession of one of Europe’s best squads, Di Matteo has every right to believe that history could repeat itself and he could find himself standing in May as a Champions League winning manager once again.

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Scotland Take Aim For France And Euro 2016

Tom Hanks stars in Saving private Ryan (Image from Getty)In 1998, Tom Hanks starred in the hit movie Saving Private Ryan about a team of men on an almost impossible mission to rescue Matt Damon (Private Ryan) from deep within Germany. Their journey was long and treacherous with several heartbreaks along the way but eventually they made it to their goal and recued Ryan. 1998 was also the last year that Scotland qualified for a major international tournament – the World Cup in France. Like Saving Private Ryan, Scotland has been on a long journey that has seen eight heartbreaking attempts to qualify ending in failure. They have lost managers along the way (seven in total) but still they have persevered. After all Scotland’s goal is to finally end their 16 year hiatus from the international stage and make it to one of footballs premiere events. Now bossed by Gordon Strachan, optimism was high ahead of their new campaign – Euro 2016, with pride and belief firmly back in place. That was until the draw was made which has placed Scotland in one of the toughest groups, facing up to World Champions Germany, Poland, Republic of Ireland, Georgia and Gibraltar.

Scotland's last appearance was at France 1998  (Image from DailyRecord)

Scotland’s last appearance was at France 1998
(Image from DailyRecord)

With the German’s favourite to claim top spot, all eyes are focused on the second automatic qualification spot (now in effect since UEFA changed the number of teams competing in the finals from 16 to 24). Qualification won’t be easy especially given the teams Scotland has to face. Poland, inspired by their captain Robert Lewandowski will be no push over’s as they showed against England in the last World Cup qualifying sections. Despite having an aging squad, Scotland will face a strong Polish side that are highly organized and like to attack on the break. The two teams are schedule to play each other in a friendly in March which will help them both to eye up potential weaknesses or hidden dangers. How much will be on show is unknown as both managers will be mindful to keep their cards close to their chests ahead of the qualifying games that actually matter.

Dangerman - Robert Lewandowski  (Image from Reuters)

Dangerman – Robert Lewandowski
(Image from Reuters)

The Republic of Ireland have been reborn with a new manager in Martin O’Neill, supported by the fiery Roy Keane, and will be looking to make Euro 2016 after failing to clinch a place at the World Cup this summer in Brazil. With a host of exciting youngsters like Seamus Coleman, Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick coming into the team, O’Neill is building for the future. The need for freshness has never been greater with talisman Robbie Keane, Andy Reid, Richard Dunne and Shay Given reaching the twig light years of their careers. Keane in particular has yet to commit to another campaign which could come as some welcome news to Scotland. The Los Angeles Galaxy striker has lead the line for Ireland for well over a decade now and has been their biggest threat. But general wear and tear plus a desire to prolong his career in the USA could force the former Inter Milan and Spurs striker to call it a day. With or without Keane, Ireland still pose a realistic threat to Scotland’s chances of qualifying and Strachan is well aware of this.

O'Neill and Keane look to mastermind Ireland's qualification  (Image from Getty)

O’Neill and Keane look to mastermind Ireland’s qualification
(Image from Getty)

Whilst Georgia and Gibraltar are outsiders in the group to qualify, both are out to prove something which could spell trouble for Scotland. Georgia continues to build their reputation on the international stage and under former Newcastle and Georgia legend, Temuri Ketsbaia they are making significant strides. He has built a side for the future with Rostov’s Jano Ananidze and Fortuna Dusseldorf’s Levan Kenia notable stand outs. Their biggest problem has been upfront where they have failed to fill the boots of former Rangers striker Shota Arveladze but the so far uncapped Giorgi Iluridze, who plies his trade with Hakduk Spilt, may provide the answer. Gibraltar will embark on an historic campaign when they kick off against Poland in September. It will be only their fifth ever match and their very first qualification game after being granted UEFA membership early last year. The team is made up of mostly semi professionals but will be out to show that they are not just there to make up the numbers.  Like San Marino and Andorra before, they will likely defend in numbers in the hope of pulling off a draw, much like they did against Slovakia last November.

Replacement needed for Shota Arveladze  (Image from Reuters)

Replacement needed for Shota Arveladze
(Image from Reuters)

This may be Scotland’s best chance of qualifying for a while with two automatic spots up for grabs and a best placed third spot available too. They will need full points against Georgia and Gibraltar and a minimum of two wins from four against Poland and Ireland to stand a chance. They will also need Germany to do a clean sweep of the group to make it an even playing field and a three horse race. Strachan will not be expecting much from the two games against Germany but given recent history where Scotland have shocked the likes of France and Holland with victories, maybe snatching a point or three against Joachim Low’s team is not necessarily out of the question. If they can reach the twenty point mark, qualification to Euro 2016 could be within their grasps. The irony of a return to France has not been lost but there is still a long and treacherous journey ahead before they can achieve their goal.

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German Engineering Proves Too Strong For Messi and Argentina

Gotze wins it for Germany (Image from AFP)

It may have taken 112 minutes to come but Germany’s World Cup winning goal was 24 years in the making. For a country known for producing quality automobiles refined over generations it should be no surprise that they applied the same logic to its national football team. For the key engineer behind the project Joachim Low, it is vindication for all those nearly runs whilst he was tweaking and adjusting the balance of his machine. Nine years ago he started, picking up from Jurgen Klinsmann who had managed Germany for only two years prior with Low at his side as assistant manager. Klinsmann had started the overhaul, stripping the aging team down to its bare components and starting again after a disappointing Euro 2004. He managed a semi final berth at the 2006 World Cup on home soil in Germany but decided to step down after the tournament and let Low take on the challenge. It would be a masterful decision as Low would take Germany that one stage further eight yesrs later in Brazil. On the way they would reach the semi finals of the 2010 World Cup and earn a semi final spot at Euro 2012 but it was all in preparation for the ultimate goal, World Cup final success.

The Engineer, Joachim Loew  (Image from Getty)

The Engineer, Joachim Loew
(Image from Getty)

Mario Gotze 112th minute strike will go down in the record books as the one that helped lift the World Cup for Germany but this truly was a team effort. In goal, Manuel Neuer looked calm and relaxed throughout the tournament, quietly confident that they would win in the end. Neuer had more touches outside of his box in the tournament than inside of it, as he played the role of sweeper keeper to perfection. His assured performances shone brightly, helping him to the Golden Glove award and to World Cup glory. Captain Phillipp Lahm proved irreplaceable in the team, operating either as a defensive midfielder or in his natural right back berth. The Bayern Munich star inspired his team to victory through his tenacity and self drive that has made him a winner in almost every competition he has entered. His defensive partners  – Benedikt Höwedes, Mats Hummels, Jérôme Boatengand Per Mertesacker ensure that Neuer was rarely tested and redefined German defending for years to come.  Hummels in particular stood out, showing why Manchester United are so keen to sign him and why Borussia Dortmund are trying desperately to hold on to him.

Unbeatable - Manuel Neuer  (Image from Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Unbeatable – Manuel Neuer
(Image from Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Bastian Schweinsteiger proved once again that he is one of the world’s best midfielders, battling from the start in a style not seen since Michael Ballack departed for retirement. Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil shone bright whilst Chelsea’s Andre Schurrle proved invaluable from the bench. Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira anchored the side in midfield providing the inspiration when needed to get them through some difficult matches. Up front Thomas Muller continued his Wolrd Cup tradition with yet another 5 goals including a stunning hat trick, the first international one of his career, against Portugal whilst the never aging Miroslav Klose ensured that history would not forget him as he became the all time leading goalscorer in a World Cup with the two strikes needed to take him to 16. Each to a man, Germany excelled, their passing game a joy to behold. As the game ticked into its 60th minute, Germany had already racked up 400+ passes to Argentina’s 176. Possession of the ball stood at 60/40 in Germany’s favour and they had already struck the post once. Whilst Higuian had the ball in the back of the net from a offside position once, Argentina had rarely troubled Germany in the first hour of the match. The second hour, which included the 30 minutes of extra time saw the same story with Germany only giving up on its total possession by 7% mostly due to growing fatigue. Argentina simply didn’t have the spark that many thought they would have going into the match.

World Cup winners, Germany  (Image from PEDRO UGARTEPEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images)

World Cup winners, Germany

Much will be talked about the ineffectiveness of Lionel Messi on this the grandest stage of all but to be fair the odds were always against him. Comparisons to Maradona and his achievements in 1986 were predictable but without a support team of genuine world-class players, it was never going to be Messi’s night. They will refer to how Maradona single handily dragged Argentina over the finish line in the final to win the World Cup and how Messi, arguably one of the games greatest ever players should have done the same. But the bitter truth is that the Argentina squad of 1986 was collectively a far stronger and star-studded team than that which took to the field yesterday. Jorge Valdano, Daniel Passarella, Jorge Burruchaga  and Oscar Ruggeri all played vital roles in Argentina’s success alongside Maradona in Mexico 1986 as they beat West Germany in the final 3-2. Maradona was a genius whose creativity, vision and determination had got them there but he never scored in the final. The winning goal would come from Burruchaga after West Germany fought back from 2-0 down to tie the match with ten minutes to go. Messi had played a similar role in getting his team to this years final, scoring four goals along the way and earning four consecutive man of the match awards. But without a fully fit Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero plus the stuttering form of Gonzalo Higuian, it was always going to be a step too far for the Barcelona striker.

Maradona lifts the 1986 World Cup  (Image from Action Images / Sporting Pictures / Tony Marshall)

Maradona lifts the 1986 World Cup
(Image from Action Images / Sporting Pictures / Tony Marshall)

For Germany, the Low built machine rolls on to qualification for Euro 2016 in France. Like Spain who dominated for six years during 2008 and 2014, Germany will be considered favourites to win before even one ball has been kicked and rightly so. The current crop still has plenty left in the tank and Low will be keen to build on his legacy. He will refine and tweak his team adding newer parts like Julian Draxler, Matthias Ginter and Marco Reus into the fold, rebuilding the machine that he has put together. Germany were deserved winners of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and will use that as a springboard for future success. The scariest thing for other nations to observe is Germany can get better and with Low behind the driver’s seat, this well oiled machine could dominate world football for the foreseeable future.

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Crunch Time For The US As Their World Cup Fate Lies In Their Own Hands

Dempsey has led the charge for the US (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Two games in, four points gained. Not a bad start for a team expected to struggle in a supposed group of death but for US head coach Jürgen Klinsmann it’s the start he expected and he is now looking forward to today’s game against Germany. The job is far from done as mathematically Ghana or Portugal could overtake the US into second spot, knocking them out of the World Cup. Only a point is needed to secure passage although a defeat may still work as long as the goal difference tally remains positive and other results go their way. An electric win against Ghana set them on their way and for a brief moment victory for the second time and secured passage to the knockout rounds was on the cards against Portugal before Cristiano Ronaldo stepped up in the 95th minute of the game to provide a killer cross for Varela to bullet home a header. It was a bitter blow for the US to handle who had taken the game to Portugal from the first kick of the ball. Despite falling behind to a Nani shot in the 5th minute, the US rallied and through Jermaine Jones found the equalizer. When Clint Dempsey drifted into the box in the 81st minute to knock the ball into the net using his stomach, the US bench erupted knowing that they were only 9 minutes away from adding another famous scalp to their repertoire. But any team with Ronaldo in its ranks cannot be discounted and the US paid for a single moment of slack marking that ultimately cost them two valuable points.

Leaving Donovan behind was seen as a strange move  (Image from Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Leaving Donovan behind was seen as a strange move
(Image from Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Going into the tournament, the focus of all discussions was around Klinsmann’s surprise omission of US legend Landon Donovan from his final 23 man squad. Doubters called it the end of the US World Cup campaign before it began but in truth Klinsmann’s side have looked like they hardly miss the LA Galaxy striker. In goal, Tim Howard has shown why he is consistently one of the best goalkeepers in the English Premier League, whilst midfielder Michael Bradley has demonstrated why Toronto shelled out over $10 million for his services. Up front captain Clint Dempsey has rolled back the years with two heart on the sleeve performances and two highly important goals. Added into this the emergence of new stars like Matt Besler, Fabian Johnson, Jermaine Jones and Graham Zusi have made the US tough to break down and tougher to beat. It really has been a group effort from front to back with all members of the squad playing their part but today’s game will require an extra special push as they face one of the favourites for the tournament. Recent history is on their side with the US beating Germany in a friendly in June of last year by 4 goals to 3. However it would be wise not to be fooled by this result as the German side that Low fielded that day was primarily second string and experimental at best. Today’s team will be tougher, stronger and more technically gifted.

Old Friends - Klinsmann and Low  (Image from Getty)

Old Friends – Klinsmann and Low
(Image from Getty)

Questions have been asked about Germany’s conviction going into the match and whether Germany manager Joachim Low and Klinsmann will have made a deal to draw the game, a result good enough for both countries to progress regardless of the other result. The pair have history, with Klinsmann appointing Low as his assistant manager when he took over as Germany manager in 2004. When Klinsmann quit after the 2006 World Cup, it was he who recommended to the German FA that Low was ready to take over, ultimately handing the baton straight to his number two. But as much as a deal would suit both teams, it is not in either’s nature to agree to such a thing. Klinsmann is keen to prove that his US side is in the knockout stages on merit, not due to a side deal whilst Low, confident of his team’s progression will be aware that mathematically Germany could still be knocked out if results go against them. Having been beaten finalists at Euro 2008 and beaten semi finalists four years ago in South Africa, Low is desperate to pull Germany over the line and hand them their first World Cup in over 24 years. For Klinsmann reaching the knockout stages is a must and a chance to show his critics exactly how good a coach he is. Remember it was Klinsmann who started the Germany revolution back in 2004 by embracing the country’s youth players like Philip Lahm, Bastian Schweinstegier and Lukas Podolski who have been core to the German push in the last 10 years. Klinsmann will be hoping for a positive result today that sees the US progressing to the knock out rounds and hopefully acts as the springboard for the US national team’s progression over the next ten years.

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Sleepless Nights Ahead For World Cup Managers Sweating Over Striker Fitness

Webo injures his shoulder in the match (Image from (AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson)

Several World Cup managers are having sleepless nights worrying if their star striker will be fit and ready to go come kick off of the World Cup. The head coaches of Spain, Uruguay, Colombia, Cameroon and Germany all have major concerns about their preferred striker being fit enough to not only start but in some cases play in the tournament. With the FIFA squad selection deadline rapidly approaching, fitness and physios across all five nations are working tirelessly to heal their broken frontmen.


Will Del Bosque risk selecting Costa?  (Image from Getty)

Will Del Bosque risk selecting Costa?
(Image from Getty)

The biggest concern of them all is around Uruguay’s Luis Suarez, who picked up a knee injury in Liverpool’s final game of the season against Newcastle and that later required surgery. Whilst the surgery has been deemed a success, pictures of Suarez being wheeled out of the hospital looking tired and frustrated are sending worrying signals back to Uruguay’s head coach Óscar Tabárez. Suarez is expected to recover in time but if rushed the injury could return, which would likely rule him out of the entire tournament and the start of the next Premiership season. Tabarez can fall back on the reliable trio of Diego Forlan, Edinson Cavani and Abel Hernandez but having a fully fit Suarez at his disposal would be preferred. The 27 year old had an incredible comeback season for Liverpool scoring 31 goals and winning the Player of the Year award only 12 months after his career looked to be over following a biting incident that lead to a 10 match ban. Suarez is now back home in Montevideo resting with Tabarez hoping he recovers in time for Uruguay’s second group match, a crunch game against England.

Suarez required knee surgery and is now a doubt for the World Cup  (Image from Getty)

Suarez required knee surgery and is now a doubt for the World Cup
(Image from Getty)

Whilst Tabarez is aiming for the group stage, Colombian head coach José Pékerman will give his star striker, Radamel Falcao until the knock out stages to recover fully from a ruptured cruciate ligament he sustained in January. The Monaco hit man is a fundamental part of Colombia’s plans and many people in that country have been praying hard for his recovery. They will have been delighted therefore to see Falcao take part in a light training session yesterday as he ramps up his recovery. Similar to Uruguay, Pekerman has a wealth of riches up front including Porto’s Jackson Martinez, Sevilla’s Carlos Bacca and Robert Lewandoski’s replacement next season at Borussia Dortmund, Adrian Ramos so will be reluctant to rush Falcao back and risk injuring him again. With one of the easiest groups in the World Cup, Pekerman may rely on his other options to help Colombia qualify and only draft in Falcao if they are in desperate need of a goal.

Back in Training - Falcao  (Image from AFP)

Back in Training – Falcao
(Image from AFP)

The same can be said for Spain’s Diego Costa who aggravated his hamstring injury again during last Saturdays’ Champions League final. The Atletico striker last only 9 minutes before limping off and now runs the risk of missing the World Cup all together as doctors have advised him that he needs at least two weeks rest. With only 18 days left until Spain kicks off its defence, Costa faces an anxious wait to see if he will be fit and indeed If Spain head coach Vicente Del Bosque selects him. The Brazilian born striker has been in great form this season, inspiring Atletico to its first La Liga title in 18 years but it could have come at a cost. Del Bosque has other options including Fernando Torres, David Villa and Alvaro Negredo but having Costa fit and for selection would offer a different tactical option, something that appeals to a master tactical tinker like Del Bosque.

Diego Costa limps off during the Champions League Final  (Image from PA)

Diego Costa limps off during the Champions League Final
(Image from PA)

Joachim Low on the other hand prefers to stick with the same formation, rarely deviating from it. But a large part of his plans revolve around the fitness of Lazio striker and German icon Miroslav Klose. The 131 time capped striker who has played in three world cups already and is looking to add a fourth, is struggling for fitness and faces a race to be ready for Germany’s opening group game against Portugal on the 16th June. With Mario Gomez ruled out due to injury, Klose is the only experienced striker in Low’s team so having him ready is a must if Germany is to have a shot at winning the tournament.

Miroslav Klose is struggling with fitness  (Image from AP Photo/Gero Breloer)

Miroslav Klose is struggling with fitness
(Image from AP Photo/Gero Breloer)

Cameroon also needs their experienced striker to recover quickly from an injury sustained in a warm up match. Pierre Webo suffered a shoulder injury scoring a spectacular bicycle kick goal against Macedonia which is now causing the Fenerbache front man some major troubles. He left the match in a sling but is hopeful that he will still make the squad if he can rest it for the next ten days. With Cameroon placed in a tough group with hosts Brazil, Croatia and Mexico, head coach Volker Finke will need a fully fit squad to get out of the group stages. Webo plays an important part of his plans alongside Samuel Eto’o so the Cameroon physio’s are working overtime to fix his shoulder in preparation for the World Cup.

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Guardiola Grabs Gotze As His Revolution Picks Up The Pace

Bayern Bound - Gotze (Image from MIS Sweden Germany )Jupp Heynckes might still be in the hot seat but the Pep Guardiola revolution at Bayern Munich has already started with the Spanish coach making his first move in the transfer market by splashing out a new record German fee for Borussia Dortmund’s Mario Gotze. The pacey winger has been a revelation for his team over the past three seasons after Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp promoted him from the club’s youth setup but will join Bayern when the current season ends. Bayern have agreed to pay a record breaking £31.5m to sign the Germany international in a move which formally kicks off a new era at the club following the appointment of their first ever Spanish coach.

On the Move - Mario Gotze  (Image from Reuters)

On the Move – Mario Gotze
(Image from Reuters)

Gotze joins the club at a time of transition with Guardiola likely to adjust the team to his liking. Suspected departures include the aging trio of Daniel Van Buyten, Anatoliy Tymoshchuk and Claudio Pizzarro and the second string pairing of Luiz Gustavo and Rafinha in favour of some fresh young blood, in a similar mold of Gotze. Bayer Leverkusen may be bracing themselves for a double bid from Guardiola for Andre Schürrle and Lars Bender whilst Borussia might not have seen the last of them as they circle back for prolific striker Robert Lewandowski and defender Mats Hummel. Similarly the form of Freiburg defender Oliver Sorg, Eintracht Frankfurt duo defender Sebastian Jung and midfielder Sebastien Rode as well as Bochum’s rising star Leon Goretzka will not have gone unnoticed to the Spaniard who will look to bring in exciting German talent into his already impressive squad. Guardiola will also look to other shores to strengthen with likely candidates being the controversial biter Luis Suarez, Barcelona’s Thiago and Newcastle’s Cheick Tiote whilst also looking to promote exciting youngsters from the youth setup into his first team.

Rising Star - Leon Goretzka  (Image from Getty)

Rising Star – Leon Goretzka
(Image from Getty)

But Gotze is and will be the glamour signing and what a signing they have made. Comfortable on both wing and possessing breathtaking speed and close control, Gotze is one of the most exciting young players in the game today. Over three seasons, the twenty year old has scored twenty two goals from wide positions and created countless more on route to back to back domestic league titles in 2010-11 and 2011-12. Seen as one of the best products of the Borussia youth setup for decades, Gotze is now one of the first names on Klopp’s team sheet and a fully fledged member of Joachim Low’s national squad too. The news of Gotze’s decision to leave and Bayern’s purchase (having activated a release clause in his contract) has upset the talented Klopp but the Dortmund boss holds no animosity towards his star player, despite his somewhat sarcastic response to the media when questioned over the transfer:

Gotze was the player Guardiola wished to sign. So if it’s anyone’s fault it’s mine. I cannot make myself 15cm smaller and learn Spanish. Gotze wants to work with this extraordinary coach that is Guardiola. I cannot preach football of quick transitions and now start playing Tiki Taka. Mario knows he owes a lot to the club, but I know he gave a lot back as well”

Not Happy - Klopp (Image from PA)

Not Happy – Klopp (Image from PA)

Klopp knows he has lost one of his best players to the clubs biggest rivals which will hurt for some time but he will start the rebuilding process in earnest as he looks to re-strength his squad ahead of the new season and a new title challenge. He will also be looking forward to testing his skills against one of the best coaches in the world in Guardiola. Munich will be stronger than this season and Dortmund know they will need to be up to the task if they are to peg them back. Munich have been in dazzling form this season, losing only once to Bayer Leverkusen (an 87th minute strike by Sidney Sam ruined their chances of an unbeaten season) and conceding only 14 goals. Guardiola could not have dreamed for a better time to take charge of a new club, especially one that is flying so high this year.

Let the Games Begin - Guardiola makes his first move  (Image form Getty)

Let the Games Begin – Guardiola makes his first move
(Image form Getty)

As Heynckes prepares to vacate his position, the legacy that he leaves to Guardiola may well include a Champions league title after a convincing 4-0 victory at home to Pep’s old team, Barcelona in the first leg of the semi finals of that competition put them in a commanding place. But that will matter little to Guardiola, who has won the same event twice as a coach already and is looking more towards the future of the club and its next metamorphism. No transition can start without the initial spark and it appears as though Gotze is that spark. Guardiola’s Bayern revolution is firmly underway, even before he arrives in Germany. The fans will demand success and Guardiola will want to deliver it, that is with the help of his new Messi, Mario Gotze.

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