So, here we are with the first match of 2012 – doesn’t time fly. It’s a slightly damp evening in the northern city of Bremen, where the Nationalmannschaft are taking on neighbours France and hope to secure their first win over Les Bleus in five matches – a record that stretches just under a quarter of a century back to 1987 and the days of Lothar Matthäus, Pierre Littbarski and Rudi Völler.
That’s right – the last time any German side beat the French was in 1987, before the fall of the Berlin Wall. What is perhaps even worse is that in the five matches played since that night in Berlin twenty-five years ago – when Völler scored both goals for Franz Beckenbauer’s side in a 2-1 win – the Mannschaft have found the back of the French net only once, when they went down 2-1 in Montpellier in early 1990.
A single-goal home defeat in Stuttgart in 1996 was followed by the same scoreline being recorded in Paris five years later, and when the French next visited Germany in 2003 they strolled to a 3-0 victory in Gelsenkirchen. The losing streak was stopped with a goalless draw in the French capital in 2005, but it is clear that things have to change in Bremen this evening as Jogi’s Jungs take on a French side that has only just started to recover after a traumatic World Cup in South Africa in 2010.
Under new coach Laurent Blanc the French overcame a bad start to earn a place at next year’s European Championship finals, and they will be determined to maintain their excellent recent record over the Germans and give themselves a major confidence boost as the big event in Poland and the Ukraine approaches. The French side may look completely different from the ragged outfit that was humiliated in South Africa, and while the flood of talent that allowed French football to assert itself on the world stage a decade ago may have dried up just a little, there is more than enough talent coming through the ranks.
The German rivalry with the French may not approach that of the Netherlands or even England or Italy, but this fixture has always been a noteworthy one that nobody takes for granted.
This evening’s fixture is being shown on ESPN slightly “delayed live” – apparently the Under-21 match between England and Belgium is more important. 🙂
So, onto the starting eleven…
As usual, Nationaltrainer Jogi Löw has been playing with the press (or perhaps the press have just been playing) as the starting eleven is looking slightly different from those that have been posted over the last week or so.
In goal: Tim Wiese
The Nationaltrainer had made the decision to start with the Bremen ‘keeper a few days ago, probably because it gives him the chance to start a full international at his home ground. I have never been a fan of the Mannschaft’s resident martial arts expert, but to be fair when he is good he can be very good. Let’s just hope that he doesn’t have a bad day – yes, it can get ugly.
The defensive quartet: Jérôme Boateng, Mats Hummels, Holger Badstuber, Dennis Aogo
There was plenty of pre-match talk suggesting that Jogi would go with Benedikt Höwedes at right-back and Marcel Schmelzer on the wing, but instead he has gone for pretty much the same foursome that started last November against the Netherlands – though with Hummels coming in for the injured Per Mertesacker. There’s a chance we might see either one of Höwedes or Schmelzer come on for the second half, but I think that the coach has probably gone for the most solid quartet available.
Some have had a few doubts about Aogo, but it is worth noting that he was not alone in being awful against the Ukraine, and did make up for it with a more solid performance against the Dutch, while I have far more confidence in Boateng at right-back than Höwedes, who came in for some brutal treatment at the hands of Franck Ribéry at the weekend during the Bayern-Schalke game. Two skinning in a week might have been just a little too much.
The defensive midfield engine room: Sami Khedira, Toni Kroos
These two guys were impressive as a partnership last time out in the absence of Bastian Schweinsteiger, and are the best players available right now in defensive midfield. Toni Kroos may not be in the best of form for Bayern, but he seems to always raise his game when playing in the Schwarz und Weiß. Maybe there’s something in the Löw system that offers him more. As for Khedira, the man is solidity personified.
The creative midfield trio: Marco Reus, Mesut Özil, André Schürrle
Reus has been a popular choice with fans all over Germany for a while now, and he makes the starting line-up for the first time ahead of Thomas Müller out on the right flank. While Müller is still seen as a shoo-in for the position, the tricky and highly versatile Borussia Mönchengladbach winger will be looking to build on his burgeoning reputation and secure a berth in the final Euro 2012 squad.
Recently-crowned German Player of the Year Özil has been highly impressive for his club side Real Madrid this season, and slots into his usual role in the middle of the field, while Schürrle gets a start out on the left in the absence of Lukas Podolski. The Leverkusen man has not been in the best of form in the Bundesliga in recent weeks, but like so many there is something about playing in the national team that brings the best out of him.
Still chasing Der Bomber: Miroslav Klose
Leading the team out for the eleventh time in what is his 114th match, Klose has been in sparkling form in Serie A for Lazio this season, and is looking to cement his place as the Mannschaft’s target-man for the Euros – and, perhaps, get a little closer to Gerd Müller’s goalscoring record.
On what was a mild but slightly damp evening in northern Germany, Italian referee Paolo Tagliavento got things underway, with Germany playing in their new green and white change strip – evoking the spirit of 1972 – and the French in a smart-looking white and dark blue ensemble.
[I am still editing the minute-by-minute match report – to be added]
v France, Weserstadion, Bremen, 29.02.2012
Cacau 90.+1. / Giroud 21., Malouda 69.
Team: Wiese – Boateng, Hummels, Badstuber (46. Höwedes), Aogo – Khedira (70. L. Bender), Kroos – Reus (70. Cacau), Özil, Schürrle (45. Müller) – Klose (c) (46. Gómez)
Referee: Paolo Tagliavento (Italy)
Assistants: Lorenzo Manganelli, Riccardo di Fiore (Italy)
Fourth Official: Peter Gagelmann (Germany)
Yellow Cards: Boateng, Bender / Mexès
Red Cards: – / –
Attempts on Target: 5 / 6
Attempts off Target: 9 / 9
Corners: 5 / 9
Fouls Committed: 11 / 12