In the wake of Germany’s last home game – in early June against Armenia in Mainz – everything would be still up in the air. The team had overcome a sluggish start to defeat their opponents 6-1, and days that followed would see an additional dramatic twist with the withdrawal of the injured Marco Reus from the World Cup squad who would then head off to Brazil more in hope than expectation.
Just over a month later Jogi Löw’s side would claim the FIFA World Cup for a fourth time, and the team would return to Germany as heroes. For their first home game following their World Cup victory, the Nationalmannschaft would be hailed in a party-like atmosphere in Düsseldorf. The seats in the Esprit Arena would be all set for a spectacular display, retirees Miroslav Klose, Philipp Lahm and Per Mertesacker as well as assistant coach Hansi Flick would be given a poignant farewell, and the team would live up for what was expected to be a gala display against – irony of ironies, the team they had beaten in the final at the Maracanã.
A new-look team would line up at the start, but nobody could have expected the defensive disaster that was to follow: a display that for a while threatened to emulate Germany’s own destruction of Brazil in the own back yard less than two months earlier, but with the boot on the other foot.
Thankfully, a decent enough second-half showing would prevent such a catastrophe. However everybody was glad that nobody had dared repeat Franz Beckenbauer’s infamous prediction of German footballing dominance after the last World Cup win in 1990: this German squad is packed with talent and had a good chance of adding more trophies, but there is still plenty of work to be done.
The rest of the world is now watching more closely than ever – and at the same time learning. Germany are now the team to beat, and it is this attitude that a determined Argentinian team would bring with them as the two sides lined up in what had been billed by many as a World Cup rematch and an opportunity for the Albiceleste to exact some measure of “revenge”.
While Argentina’s new coach Gerardo Martino would field a strong side – albeit missing the magical playmaker and talisman Lionel Messi – Löw would start without only four of those that had featured in the final in Brazil – with a fifth to join in amidst the glut of second half substitutions.
Facts and Stats
This would be Germany’s twenty-second match against Argentina, with a overall record of eight wins (including the penalty shoot out in the World Cup in 2006), four draws and nine defeats. While only one of those defeats had come in serious games – the World Cup final in 1986 in Mexico – the majority had taken place in friendly matches on German soil. Indeed, coming into the match in Düsseldorf the Nationalmannschaft had not beaten Argentina at home in six attempts – with the last positive result coming in April 1988 when the former West Germany would win 1-0 in the four-team mini-tournament in Berlin.
Argentina’s last visit to Germany would see them claim a 3-1 win in a game that had seen German ‘keeper Ron-Robert Zieler dismissed early on for a professional foul, and before that they would spoil the home party in Munich with a 1-0 win in 2010.
Having boasted five centurions in their World Cup squad, only one would be available for this game – Lukas Podolski. The withdrawal through injury of centre-backs Jérôme Boateng and Mats Hummels would also expose the fragility of the German back four, with Benedikt Höwedes the only one to have more than five international caps.
Up front, striker Mario Gómez would return to the international fold after an absence of 385 days.
After the hard-fought and cagey encounter two months earlier with so much more at stake, this would be an exciting if error-strewn encounter. Germany would have plenty of chances, but the Argentinians would be far more clinical with their finishing. While Mario Gómez would fluff three gilt-edged opportunities in the first half, Argentinian winger Ángel di María – a notable absentee from the World Cup final – would dominate proceedings with a world-class display.
While Gómez was doing his best to frustrate the crowd, di María would be at the centre of almost every move made by the visitors. Both sides would make mistakes at the back, but it would be Martino’s side that would take advantage and dish out the punishment. The first of many defensive lapses would allow the slightly-built winger swing in a cross for Sergio Agüero to open the scoring, and five minutes before half-time another di María pass would be finished with stylish aplomb by Érik Lamela.
If the first half had dampened the party atmosphere in the ground, the five minutes of the second would give the home supporters serious cause for concern. Another Argentinian set-piece would result in a soft third goal, and the defensive would be punctured for a fourth time when di María – the creator of the first three goals – would deservedly get himself on the scoreboard. Germany had not been 4-0 behind in any match since a horrible defeat in Romania more than ten years before, and there would be a genuine fear that things could only get worse.
However, this German team is far from the rabble that Rudi Völler would have at his disposal all those years ago in Bucharest, and they would work their way back into the game with two goals of their own to make the score less embarrassing. Both goals would come after Argentinian mistakes, but nobody would be complaining. The Nationalelf would finish strongly, but when the final whistle blew there would be no cause for celebration amidst the post-match handshakes.
Conclusion and Ratings
Given that this was a friendly match at the start of the season with a skeleton side that scarcely resembled the team that had triumphed against the same opposition less than two months earlier, we shouldn’t read too much into the result. However, the defensive display did expose what is not just a theoretical but very real danger.
Following the retirement of Lahm and Mertesacker, the absence of Boateng and Hummels would expose a very thin reserve. Short of international experience, the back four would be taken to task by the fluid and skilful Argentinians, with both Matthias Ginter and Erik Durm desperately unable to deal with the threat. Accompanied by three players with less than ten caps between them, even the more experienced Höwedes would have a torrid evening.
Essentially, as it stands this German team are just two injuries away from a possible defensive meltdown – and with Hummels being little more than a walking hospital case in recent months this is a very clear and present danger. While Germany’s opponents in the Euro 2016 qualifiers are hardly in the seam league as Argentina, they will be looking at the Mannschaft’s defensive options and giving themselves a chance. There would however be one positive note: amidst the defensive shambles, the thirteen-minute cameo from VfB Stuttgart’s Antonio Rüdiger – making just his second appearance in the Nationaltrikot – would be far more positive.
Things are not much better just in front of the back four in the defensive midfield, with the coach continuing to play around with limited resources. In the absence of Sami Khedira and newly-appointed captain Bastian Schweinsteiger we would see a new-look partnership of Toni Kroos and Christoph Kramer, and we would see contrasting performances. While Kroos would struggle to assert himself, Kramer – the surprise pick of the World Cup squad – would continue to impress.
Up front, it would be an evening to forget for the recalled Gómez. Things could have started so brightly early on, but the Fiorentina striker’s inability to make the best of a one-on-one with Argentinian ‘keeper Sergio Romero would set the tone for the rest of what would be a disappointing return.
On his first match as captain, Neuer cannot be blamed for the two goals he would conceded in the first half. Was solid enough where he needed to be, but this is a game he would want to forget. Was replaced by Roman Weidenfeller at half-time.
The Borussia Dortmund utility man may add character to the dressing room dynamic, but he adds nothing to this German side. While nobody expects him to emulate Philipp Lahm at right-back, he simply doesn’t have the awareness or touch to fill the role properly. This team needs players who are at the very least international class, and Großkreutz clearly isn’t that.
Ginter has long been described as promising and a summer move to Dortmund will certainly help him improve, but his performance against Argentina was shoddy at best. Often caught out of position on what was a torrid night for the Germany defence, he would do nothing to support the claim that he is a long-term option. However, he is still young and has the capacity to improve.
The Schalke 04 skipper is a solid but not particularly spectacular contributor, and he could only really be described as the best of a very poor bunch – which isn’t saying much. His lack of pace has always been an issue, but he would make up for this with a higher level of positional awareness than those around him. Was replaced by Antonio Rüdiger with thirteen minutes remaining.
Winning only his second cap, the Borussia Dortmund youngster would have what could only be described as a nightmare. Facing a rampant Ángel Di María, Durm would time and again be left wanting as he left chewed up and spat out by the Argentinian winger. Was far brighter going forward, but on what what was a busy night these opportunities would be few and far between.
Probably the standout performance of the evening, one that was badly needed given the dwindling resources in the defensive midfield. Almost created a goal for Mario Gómez with a perfect slide-rule pass early on, and for a big man the young Gladbacher would show great skill in keeping the ball in play in a another attacking move that could also have resulted in a goal. With a few more games under his belt he could be on the way to becoming a major fixture in the team.
A strange and somewhat subdued performance from Real Madrid’s summer signing. Denied his usual licence to roam he would look ill at ease and under pressure, something that he has never responded well to. Would only get one shot on the Argentinian goal all evening, and looked far removed from Kroos that we saw in Brazil. Was replaced after seventy-one minutes by Sebastian Rudy.
A rare start from a man known as something of a super sub, and while not putting in a special performance would come out of it with another goal to add to his international tally. Made way for Thomas Müller three minutes short of the hour mark.
Coming back from an injury that would keep him out of the World Cup, the fleet-footed Borussia Dortmund winger would turn out a decent enough performance. After a quiet first half would look more at home in the second as he adopted a more offensive role, and was unlucky not to score with one lovely shot that cannoned off the inside of the post.
A sad display by a man who is clearly not in form, made worse by his having to leave the field early with a muscle injury. Was little threat and far from his usual self, and his only real contribution was his picking up a yellow card for a brainless challenge. Replaced on thirty-four minutes by Lukas Podolski.
On another night, this could have been a glorious comeback for the ACF Fiorentina striker. back in the team for the first time in over a year, Gómez would have three gilt-edged opportunities – only to fluff them all. It was just like the Gómez from Euro 2008 all over again. Was replaced Mario Götze just short of the hour mark, and would receive a volley of boos and jeers from the crowd for his pains. He needs to find his scoring boots soon, or his days in the national team are surely numbered.
Came on for Draxler, and completed his 117th international appearance without doing much. Would be involved in the move that would lead to the second goal, but apart from that there was little to talk about. He appears to be almost sleepwalking to Lothar Matthäus’ record of 150 international caps.
Replaced Neuer at half time between the sticks, and while he could have made a slightly better fist of Argentina’s third goal there was little one can say to criticise his performance with the mistakes all being made by the men in front of him.
Replacing Schürrle after fifty-seven minutes, Müller would play his usual disruptive role and shake things up just a little in midfield. However there would be nothing spectacular on offer from the FC Bayern Raumdeuter.
Replacing the other Mario three minutes before the hour, the scorer of the winning goal in the World Cup final against Argentina would pull off the same trick with a deflected effort to pull the score back to 4-2. Götze would add extra spark to the midfield, combining well with Reus in particular.
Winning only his second cap, the TSG Hoffenheim man would replace Kroos with just under twenty minutes on the clock. Almost immediately he would look assured in the position, and would see out the game untroubled.
A thirteen-minute cameo for the VfB Stuttgart man, also winning his second cap as a seventy-seventh minute replacement for Höwedes. In those those thirteen minutes Rüdiger would look more assured than almost anyone else in a white shirt had done over the course of the match, and would show some impressive bursts of pace.
Neuer (4), Großkreutz (5), Ginter (5), Höwedes (4), Durm (5), Kramer (3), Kroos (3), Schürrle (4), Reus (4), Draxler (5), Gómez (5). Substitutes (until 75 mins): Podolski (3), Weidenfeller (4), Müller (4), Götze (3).
Neuer (3), Großkreutz (5.5), Ginter (6), Höwedes (4.5), Durm (6), Kramer (3.5), Kroos (4), Schürrle (3), Reus (4), Draxler (4), Gómez (6). Substitutes: Podolski (4), Weidenfeller (5), Müller (4), Götze (3).
Neuer (3), Großkreutz (6), Ginter (6), Höwedes (4), Durm (6), Kramer (2.5), Kroos (5), Schürrle (4), Reus (3.5), Draxler (5), Gómez (6). Substitutes: Podolski (4), Weidenfeller (4), Müller (4), Götze (3).