After all of the predictions, squad discussions and off-field shenanigans, we are finally all set. Later today, the Mannschaft kick off their Russia 2018 campaign, taking on Mexico in Moscow. The Mexicans will have no doubt put last year’s Confederations Cup thrashing out of their minds, and are sure to provide stiff opposition for a German team coming into the tournament with just one win in six.
— Die Mannschaft (@DFB_Team) June 16, 2018
Before their scratchy and unconvincing 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia, Germany had endured their longest winless spell since the late 1980s. What should have been a farewell feast of goals turned into a performance that was both disappointing and disjointed. But we have seen the same pattern before.
Germany are traditionally a tournament team, and always get things right when they really matter. If Jogi Löw’s men retain their crown next month in Moscow, nobody will be talking about that scratchy win in Leverkusen or the rain-soaked 2-1 defeat in Klagenfurt against Austria.
The Mannschaft have acquired a reputation as slow starters in tournaments, but this is not strictly true. Well, not as far as the statistics are concerned. They have won their last seven opening matches, and have not lost in a tournament opener since 1982, when Jupp Derwall’s side were shocked by minnows Algeria in Spain. The last time they failed to win was in Mexico in 1986, when they were held to a 1-1 draw by Uruguay.
Let us have a quick look at the showreel.
1990, 4-1 v Yugoslavia. 1994, 1-0 v Bolivia. 1998, 2-0 v United States. 2002, 8-0 v Saudi Arabia. 2006, 4-2 v Costa Rica. 2010, 4-0 v Australia. 2014, 4-0 v Portugal.
That is 27 goals – an average at just under four per match. With just three goals conceded. Which sets things up nicely for a comfortable 3-0 win at the Luzhniki Stadium.
The coach and players are positive after a good week’s training at their base camp in the village of Vatutinki near Moscow, everybody is fit and raring to go. The one exception is Mesut Özil, who is still struggling to work off an ongoing back problem.
— Die Mannschaft (@DFB_Team) June 16, 2018
The talk is that Özil will miss out against Mexico, meaning that it will be the first time he has not made a startling lineup in a major tournament match – a run of 25 starts going back the 2010 World Cup opener against Australia in South Africa.
According to some reports, the problem created by the meeting of Özil and İlkay Gündoğan with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is still rumbling on. Sources suggest that the coach is not quite as content as some would like to think, and that this may have also played a part in Özil potentially not starting.
Reus, Draxler to start?
I would hope that this is not the case, and that Özil being in the starting lineup or not is purely a footballing and fitness issue. Either way, my own preference is for Marco Reus to make his first World Cup start, with Julian Draxler, skipper during the successful Confedrations Cup campaign, taking the Özil role in the centre of the midfield.
Elsewhere, it is all looking good. Manuel Neuer is back in place between the sticks, with his FC Bayern München team mates Jérôme Boateng, Mats Hummels and Joshua Kimmich lining up alongside 1. FC Köln’s Jonas Hector in the back four. The tried and tested defensive midfield duo of Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos. Thomas Müller should start alongside Reus and Draxler further up, with new striking hotshot Timo Werner up top.
Of course, we should not be surprised if the Maharishi Jogi slings a curve ball. Niklas Süle could start in the middle of the defence, and the stories about Özil could just be a massive ruse.
To get everybody into the mood, this short preview finishes off with a revisit to a previous article on the German World Cup songs over the years, with a quick update.
2014 saw a number of World Cup songs, but the one that will always be associated with the triumph in Brazil is Andreas Bourani’s Ein Hoch auf Uns (“A cheer to us”). It goes very well when bundled in with a highlights montage, and it is the kind of thing you can put on a loop. The song is great, and the images are, well, beautiful.
This year, there are two songs doing the rounds. First up is Olé by Volkan featuring Wes (whoever he is), which has a street football vibe with no Russian balalaikas in sight. There are some people wearing other shirts in there, with the Argentinian Messi one being particularly annoying. Overall, it is not bad. Easily translated into a terrace chant, but not as montage-friendly as Bourani’s effort.
An alternative is Wer werden wieder Meister (“We will be champions again”) by Benjamin Scholz and bunch of randoms. There is more of a Uwu Lena feel about this one, complete with the usual visual gags. If you think you recognise the tune, it is a ripoff of Billy Joel’s We didn’t start the fire.
Well, there we are. These modern releases are OK, but nothing quite tops the 1990 effort featuring the late Udo Jürgens. With tambourine man Klaus Augenthaler and Jürgen Klinsmann on the air sax…