A Tale of Two Keepers

So to Danzig, and yet another experiment from Nationaltrainer Joachim Löw. Having sent Mesut Özil, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Manuel Neuer back home, one expected a number of changes for the Poland game, but perhaps more surprising was the experimental 4-1-4-1 formation, as opposed to the usual 4-2-3-1.

Before the encounter in Danzig the sides had met sixteen times in the space of seventy-five years, with Germany winning twelve of these matches and the other four ending in draws; indeed, the last time the Białoczerwoni had even scored against Germany was in May 1980 when they suffered a 3-1 defeat in Frankfurt. After the six-goal gala against Austria in Gelsenkirchen, this fixture in Danzig’s brand new PGE Arena was expected to provide another easy test for Jogi’s Jungs – but nobody expected quite the drama that was to ensue over the course of ninety exciting and at times bizarre minutes.

First, the starting eleven and the pre-match preview…

In goal: Tim Wiese

With Neuer being given a rest, the goalkeeper’s slot was awarded to SV Werder Bremen’s Wiese – making his fourth start and fifth appearance in all in the national colours. After an uncomfortable couple of recent outings against Denmark and Australia, Wiese was hoping for a solid performance. Somewhat worryingly, Germany have not won any of the four previous matches where Wiese has featured, losing 2-1 against England and Australia and drawing 2-2 with both the Ivory Coast and Denmark.

The back four: Christian Träsch, Per Mertesacker, Jérôme Boateng, Philipp Lahm

The defence sees wholesale change, with only Philipp Lahm remaining from the four that lined up against Austria, although Jérôme Boateng did impress in the second half after coming on for the injured Benedikt Höwedes. Mertesacker, now an Arsenal player, makes his first start since March and VfL Wolfsburg’s Christian Träsch returns. With Träsch on the right, skipper Lahm switches across to the left.

The holding midfielder: Simon Rolfes

In what is a tactical change by the coach, the usual 4-2-3-1 formation gives way to a 4-1-4-1, with the first “1”, being given to Leverkusen skipper Rolfes. Bastian Schweinsteiger he isn’t, but he should be solid enough for the role.

The midfield quartet: André Schürrle, Mario Götze, Toni Kroos, Lukas Podolski

Let’s just say that I am not a fan of this formation, as it risks messing up what has worked well. Polish-born Podolski will get to start on the left, but after that it all gets a little confused with Schürrle on the right and Götze sitting rather anonymously next to Kroos in the centre. Thomas Müller being left on the bench really does put the formation out of kilter.

Up front: Miroslav Klose

Like Lukas Podolski, Miro will start for the first time on Polish soil against the land of his birth; he will be looking to edge closer to Gerd Müller’s all-time German goalscoring record in what will be his 112th international. Mario Gómez is out injured.

Now to the match report: having tried and failed to find a properly working live stream during my last attempt, I decided on having another go and managed to find two transmissions, one from a Polish television channel and another from ZDF. Given that my deutsch is far better than my polski the natural choice was to go with the ZDF coverage, but with the pictures being irritatingly choppy throughout I decided on watching the Polish coverage and listening to the German commentary. It was a bit out of sync, but far better than hitting the Aktualisieren button every minute on Kicker Online.

Playing in a combination of black/white/black – possibly for the last time – Germany kick off against the red-shirted Poles.

2 mins Lukas Podolski is flagged for offside. The moment he gets close to the ball he is given a loud “welcome” by the home fans.

3 mins Simon Rolfes is unable to find Mario Götze as Germany stream forward through the centre of the field.

4 mins Podolski is fouled, but the resulting free-kick comes to nothing.

5 mins André Schürrle’s cross is met by Polish defender Marcin Wasilewski and put behind for a corner. Toni Kroos swings the ball in and Wojciech Szczęsny saves. Germany immediately press into the Polish area, and Miroslav Klose finds Szczęsny when he perhaps should have done better. In what is a sudden flurry of half-chances, Rolfes’ scuffed shot is gathered by the Polish ‘keeper.

9 mins Germany win the ball in midfield, and after yet another swift move forward Podolski releases Philipp Lahm on the left who forces another parry from Szczęsny. Less than ten minutes gone, and two excellent chances already.

11 mins The first genuine move forward by the home side, and it almost results in the opening goal. Rafal Murawski plays a sharp pass to Sławomir Peszko, Per Mertesacker is caught dawdling, and the Polish forward is foiled by Tim Wiese in the German goal.

18 mins It’s all getting a little scrappy now; Germany have made a few decent early chances, but are clearly missing Thomas Müller’s industry in midfield.

19 mins Kroos frees Podolski down the left but he puts the ball wide from a tight angle, and within a minute the Mannschaft are on the offensive again as André Schürrle makes a neat break down the right and his cross is half a yard ahead of Klose.

22 mins Lukas Podolski puts the ball in the net, but is a good two yards offside.

25 mins Germany are clearly the better side and should be in front by now, but they are clearly missing the incisiveness that was shown on Friday against Austria. The four-man midfield look a little too flat, and there have been few chances for Mario Götze to comfortably slot into the “Özil” role.

27 mins Germany win a corner, but it comes to nothing. The Poles immediately break out break out to launch a fantastic counter-attack at pace which leaves Peszko bearing down on Wiese; unfortunately for the home side he hits the side netting.

32 mins Another fabulous German move down the left, this time by Lahm who finds Kroos with a neat pass. Kroos tries to place the ball in the corner, but it is brilliantly parried by Szczęsny. Just seconds later Lahm charges across the edge of the Polish box to find Götze, whose cross is eventually collected by the busy Polish ‘keeper when defender Arkadiusz Głowacki fails to clear and almost fashions a chance for Klose.

33 mins Podolski is being booed by the home crowd every time he touches the ball; a goal would shut them up I think.

38 mins Some casually skillful defending by Jérôme Boateng breaks down a Polish foray into the German half.

39 mins Germany win a free-kick out to the left just outside the Polish box. It is floated in by Podolski but is too strong for Klose to get on the end of it.

41 mins Some slack German play almost allows Poland to fashion an attack from nothing.

42 mins It’s just like Dortmund 2006 here. Klose finds Podolski with a neat diagonal pass, and the Polish-born winger blasts the ball on target where it is brilliantly parried by Szczęsny. Klose manages to meet the rebound, but once again the Arsenal stopper gets a hand on it. The German number eleven has another half-chance, but the ball is just a little too far ahead of him and he scuffs it high over the bar.

44 mins Wiese saves with his feet from Peszko, who takes a spectacular tumble. The stretcher is on the field, but the 1. FC Köln man is clearly playing to the gallery. Wiese was quick enough to meet the challenge, but his feet first approach is continues to terrify me. One day he’ll muck it up completely and leave the goal wide open, the next he’ll mistime the challenge and end up being carded for a studs-up foul. This time he gets away with it.

45 mins + 2 It’s all getting a bit messy as Borussia Dortmund’s Robert Lewandowski bundles into Per Mertesacker.

The half-time whistle blows, and somehow it’s still goalless. Were it not for the impressive Wojciech Szczęsny in the Polish goal, it could very well have been three or four by now. Germany have looked impressive going forward, though are clearly missing the strength of Müller and the craft of Özil through the middle of the field. At the other end, for all the home side’s huff and puff Tim Wiese has had very little to do. All things being equal, Germany should score at least one goal in the second half.

As expected, there are a number of half-time changes from Jogi Löw. Cacau is on for the slightly disappointing Klose, and Marcel Schmelzer is a like-for-like for Lahm at left-back. Lukas Podolski takes the captain’s armband.

50 mins The second half has started slowly, but just like in the first half it is a sharp German move in midfield that fashions the first opening. It’s Szczęsny to the rescue once again as he now gets down well to keep out a stinging long-range Kroos effort.

52 mins Probably the clearest opening of the second half so far, as Götze finds Cacau on the left and the with only Szczęsny to beat. The VfB Stuttgart man screws the shot to the right of the Polish ‘keeper and wide of the far post.

55 mins The inevitable happens. A swift move forward by the Poles, a smart defence-splitting ball from Polish skipper Jakub Blaszczykowski, and an error from Wiese who comes charging out at Dariusz Dudka à la Toni Schumacher. Having missed both Dudka and the ball, Wiese is left stranded as Lewandowski follows in to burst between Rolfes and Boateng before sliding in to roll the ball into the empty net.

Wiese charging and/or flapping, the ball rolling into an empty net… Sound familiar? For me, this has to be the Bremen man’s last game for Germany; it’s just one gaffe too many. The Poles are 1-0 up, it is their first goal against Germany in over thirty-one years, and the Mannschaft’s long unbeaten record in this fixture is under threat here.

58 mins Germany are looking more than a little rattled now. The Poles are looking increasingly confident on the break and the shape seems to have gone from the German midfield. There’s still half an hour to go though – if they get half the number of chances as they did in the first half, they are bound to score at some point. If they can managed to get the ball past Szczęsny.

60 mins Another testing high ball into the German box, and Poland win a corner. Another shot goes just wide.

61 mins Thomas Müller comes on for Podolski, who hands the captain’s armband to Per Mertesacker. The Bayern man immediately moves into his usual position on the right flank; might he inject some life back into the German midfield?

62 mins Wiese makes a fine reflex save from Blaszczykowski’s shot.

63 mins Germany are keeping the ball well in the Polish half, but there’s too much faffing about and no sign of that killer ball that was so evident against the Austrians on Friday.

65 mins Poland break quickly and Peszko is flagged for offside; moments later he is replaced by Adam Matuschyk.

68 mins After exchanging passes with Mertesacker Müller makes sharp run down the right, and Głowacki comes sliding in. The Bayern man takes a leap, and the Italian referee points to the penalty spot; Głowacki is shown the yellow card. Kroos steps up, and rolls the ball calmly into the net for what is his first international goal. The crowd is immediately silenced, and Germany are level. The penalty did look a little harsh, and while the score is certainly fair one feels that the Mannschaft have got out of jail here. 1-1.

71 mins Schmelzer does well to foil a Polish attack down the right, but in doing so almost succeeds in guiding the ball into the path of the marauding Lewandowski.

72 mins Kamil Glik comes on for Poland, replacing Frenchman Damien Perquis. Well, if Germany cane have a couple of Poles and a Brazilian I am sure Poland can have a Frenchman. Sort of like Chopin.

74 mins Germany win a free-kick in a decent position, but Götze fires it rather unimaginatively against the Polish wall.

76 mins The energetic Müller is found by Schürrle down the right, and the Bayern man plays a neat return ball. Schürrle then cuts in and then out, before unleashing a ferocious left-foot shot that is on target and turned onto the crossbar by that man Szczęsny. It’s another great save by the Polish ‘keeper, but that was a shot that Schürrle deserved to end up in the top-left corner. Sorry.

77 mins Schürrle’s Bayer 04 team mate Lars Bender is on for his first cap; the ineffective and hugely disappointing Simon Rolfes – Bender’s club captain – is the man coming off.

78 mins Boateng heads the ball over the bar from another free-kick curled in from the right.

80 mins The energetic Lewandowski is replaced by Paweł Brożek.

81 mins Germany are winning a number of free-kicks in dangerous positions now, and Głowacki gets his second yellow card for what is a clumsy challenge on Götze. It was a wild flap of the boot, and he probably had to go. It’s all set up for Germany to get the win now. They have been the most impressive of the two teams by far – shodding finishing and defensive lapses notwithstanding – and they are now against ten men. Well, nine men and a trojan in goal.

84 mins Kroos gets a little too much of an opponent’s shirt, and finds his way into the Schiri’s notebook. There’s a change in midfield for the hosts as Maciej Rybus comes on for Adrian Mierzejewski.

86 mins Bender plays a teasing ball from the right byline into the Polish area but cannot find anyone; the ball comes out to Boateng whose speculative shot goes comfortably wide of Szczęsny’s goal.

89 mins There are only few minutes to go, and it’s the first I have seen of right-back Christian Träsch who has been almost anonymous.

90 mins Oh no, here we go. A speculative punt and nod forward, and Wiese’s night doesn’t get any better as pulls off yet another classic challenge in hauling down substitute Brożek. It’s a penalty to Poland, and a pretty clear one at that. Skipper “Kuba” Blaszczykowski sends the ‘keeper the wrong way, and that’s it. Germany are surely beaten, and their long record is broken: 2-1 Poland.

90 mins + 2 Schürrle is foiled by man of the match Szczęsny. It’s only a friendly, but the Polish commentator is going bonkers here. Fair play to them, Jogi’s Jungs have been really off the boil tonight.

90 mins + 4 With the final whistle imminent Poland make their final change, as captain and spot-kick hero Kuba is replaced by Szymon Pawlowski.

90 mins + 4 Unglaublich! Unfassbar! Not knowing how or when to lose, the tireless Müller charges down the right in what is surely the last play of the game, beats his man who stumbles in his wake and plays the ball into the six-yard box. There to turn it in is Cacau, who since firing wide of the target earlier in the half has been little more than a spectator. A most bizarre game, and somehow Germany have with the final kick of the game managed to maintain their long unbeaten record against the Poles. It’s Cacau’s fifth international goal: 2-2.


Four second half goals, two penalties, a last-kick-of-the-match winner… High drama in Danzig. But this game was for me a tale of two goalkeepers, one who pulled out countless spectacular saves to keep his team in the game when they might otherwise have been battered into submission, and another who made a complete pig’s ear of the two of the three situations where he was actually called upon to do anything. While Wojciech Szczęsny was pulling off one spectacular save after another, Tim Wiese first provided us with an up-and-at-em howler before giving away a needless penalty at the death. I would not be surprised if this is the Kung-Fu King’s final appearance for the Nationalmannschaft, if just for the fact that the team’s record of not winning whenever he has been on the pitch has been extended by yet another game.

If one can offer Wiese any solace, he was not really helped by the defence – which continues to be the weak link for Nationaltrainer Jogi Löw. While going forward Germany are as good as any of the other leading tournament contenders, at the back they are far from being up the standard required to threaten the likes of Spain and the Netherlands come June next year. While the defensive unit’s somewhat patchy display against Austria was offset by what was an extremely profitable return for the offensive line, against Poland – and an inspired Szczęsny in goal – things were more evenly balanced. In fact, if one were to be highly critical one could even argue that the difference between the 2-2 draw in Danzig and 6-2 thrashing of the Austrians was down to little more than Szczęsny being exceptionally good and Austrian ‘keeper Christian Gratzei being exceptionally bad.

Only one of the German defenders on show made a positive impression: Phillip Lahm. Once again the team captain turned in a solid display, and on more than one occasion looked dangerous going forward. With Lahm at left-back, there is always the potential of a fast end to end move down the left flank; this threat completely disappeared in the second half when Lahm was replaced by Marcel Schmelzer, who looked pedestrian in comparison. Some positives can also be taken from the performance of Jérôme Boateng: while Bayern’s new signing still needs to develop his tactical awareness – something that can only be improved with experience – he offered plenty of pace and more than the occasional burst of skill; some of his forward movement was encouraging and it won’t be long until he gets one of those efforts on target.

Elsewhere in defence however there was little or nothing to speak of. Schmelzer was a disappointing replacement for Lahm at left back, while the returning Per Mertesacker looked dangerously sluggish and continually under pressure from opponents who were quick to take advantage of his lack of pace. With Mats Hummels impressing in his last two outings, things are looking increasingly bleak for Mertesacker. Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the evening however was Christian Träsch: The VfL Wolfsburg man was completely all at sea in defence while offering nothing going forward, and the only positive thing that could be said about his performance was that it was his quickly-taken throw-in to Müller that led to the late equaliser. That said, Träsch is a defensive midfielder and not a natural right-back, and his being put in that position merely highlights the bigger problem of there being very few viable alternatives.

The midfield looked good in patches, but the rather flat four-man system did little to unleash the creativity of Mario Götze: the Borussia Dortmund youngster has lots of work to do to challenge Mesut Özil for that coveted role in the centre of midfield, but he was not helped this evening by a system for which he clearly wasn’t suited. Götze impressed against Brazil because he was given licence to roam; tied to a rigid four-man line he was almost anonymous. The lack of any real penetration down the centre also left the front man starved of service and isolated up front – Miroslav Klose looked somewhat detached during the first half, and between his first missed opportunity and his winning goal Cacau hardly had a sniff of the ball.

I have never been a massive fan of the 4-1-4-1 system, and this evening’s showing should have hopefully put that little experiment to bed. The experiment playing the single defensive midfielder was an abject failure, and Simon Rolfes didn’t do himself any great favours with what was a performance that was at best ordinary. The system clearly didn’t help the Leverkusen skipper, but apart from scuffing an early chance he offered nothing that makes me think he can compete for this position against the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger or Sami Khedira.

Little or nothing came through the middle of the park, and the game only changed with the introduction of Thomas Müller who provided his usual commitment, energy and uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time – no great coincidence given his excellent tactical awareness and reading of the game. With Müller taking up his usual position on the right of the midfield it also freed up Schürrle, who looked far more assured when switched across to his natural slot on the left. As had been the case against Austria Müller didn’t score any goals himself, but he virtually won the game single-handedly in winning the penalty for the first goal and setting up the second with what was a typical bustling charge down the right.

Along with Mesut Özil, Müller is for me one of the most important members of this team, not just for his skill but for the level commitment and energy that he brings. If he continues playing like this, he could become one of the Mannschaft’s modern greats before he even hits his mid-twenties.

Now, my player ratings:

Wiese (5) – Lahm (3), Mertesacker (5.5), Boateng (3.5), Träsch (5.5) – Rolfes (6) – Podolski (3.5), Götze (4), Kroos (3), Schürrle (2.5) – Klose (4.5). Subs (before 75 mins only) : Schmelzer (4), Cacau (3.5), Müller (1.5)

And here are Bild’s:

Wiese (3) – Lahm (2), Mertesacker (5), Boateng (4), Träsch (6) – Rolfes (5) – Podolski (3), Götze (3), Kroos (3), Schürrle (4) – Klose (5). Subs: Schmelzer (4), Cacau (4), Müller (2)

Kicker usually publish their ratings a few days after the game, and I will update this in another post when they do. One does have to wonder how Bild manage to give Wiese a mark of 3 – perhaps their sports editor is a Werder fan or something.

Next up is what is going to be an interesting game in Istanbul against Turkey; while Germany are safely through to the European Championship finals already they will be looking to give Jogi Löw his fiftieth victory as Nationaltrainer and get back on track with a victory, the Turks will be looking for all three points in their attempt to secure second place in the group and a play-off berth.

Finally, a note to all English commentators – Wojciech Szczęsny’s surname is pronounced Shuh-chens-nee – as opposed to Chesney, which is the name of a lame singer from the early 1990s. Yep, him – the one and only Chesney Hawkes. That’s it from this evening’s live report – dziękuję i dobrej nocy!

v Poland, PGE Arena, Gdańsk/Danzig 06.09.2011

2-2 (0-0)
Kroos pen 68., Cacau 90.+4. / Lewandowski 55., Blaszczykowski pen 90.+1.

Team: Wiese – Träsch, Mertesacker, Boateng, Lahm (46. Schmelzer) – Rolfes (77. L. Bender*) – Podolski (60. Müller), Götze, Kroos, Schürrle – Klose (46. Cacau)

* Full international debut

Referee: Daniele Orsato (Italy)
Assistants: Andrea Marzaloni, Ricardo Binachi (Italy)
Fourth Official: Maciej Wierzbowski (Poland)

Yellow Cards: Kroos / Głowacki
Red Cards: – / Głowacki

Attempts on Target: 9 / 4
Attempts off Target: 9 / 6
Corners: 6 / 3
Fouls Committed: 12 / 14

Attendance: 40,000

A Tale of Two Keepers
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