A new year and a new Trikot, but for Nationaltrainer Joachim Löw it would be a case of the same old problems. The first international of 2014 against Chile would provide the German team with a genuinely tough workout, and although the result would somehow turn out right it would be an evening that would provide more questions than answers.
Some of those in the crowd might have underestimated the Chileans – a team that had only lost once in their previous games, and that, a 2-1 defeat against Brazil – but nobody would have expected a walkover. What everyone wanted to see was the German team show that they had the credentials to win the World Cup, but instead we would be treated to ninety minutes of football that was at times both highly frustrating and painful.
One moment of magic from Mario Götze would eventually separate the two sides, but with a little more luck and composure in front of goal the Chileans might well have been celebrating a famous victory. In fact, looking at the match again one has to wonder just how the Chileans didn’t manage to score.
Against an opponent that right from the start would press them high up the field and chase every ball, the German defence would display its weaknesses yet again, but more worryingly the much-fêted midfield unit would spend much of the ninety minutes unable to string even half a dozen passes together – more surprising when one considers that four of the five midfielders wearing the new black and red hoops of the Nationalmannschaft in Stuttgart play for the same FC Bayern München team that has dominated European football for well over a year.
As always, our eyes would turn to the coach: how could these players look so good all season, but suddenly look so flaccid and suspect?
Facts and Stats
This would be Germany’s seventh match against Chile, with their last meeting taking place in the World Cup finals in Spain in 1982, when Jupp Derwall’s side would stroll to a 4-1 win aided by a hat-trick from Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. The two countries had actually planned to meet in November 2009, but the fixture would be cancelled following the sad death of goalkeeper Robert Enke in the days before the fixture was due to take place.
The South Americans had beaten Germany twice in the 1960s, but ahead of the game in Stuttgart’s Mercedes-Benz-Arena the Mannschaft would have better record with four wins against those two defeats. Stuttgart had actually been the venue for the first meeting between the two sides back in 1960 – which would see a 2-1 win for the home side – and the only other meeting in Germany had been in the World Cup finals in 1974, when Helmut Schön’s championship-winning team would overcome their opponents by just the one goal – a memorable long-range strike from Paul Breitner.
On an individual level, Philipp Lahm would draw level with Jürgen Kohler on 105 caps, Per Mertesacker would creep closer to his own century in equalling the ninety-six appearances made by Berti Vogts, and twenty year old SC Freiburg center-back Matthias Ginter would become the fifty-eighth player to be capped by Jogi Löw.
Chile have over the years have acquired a reputation as a hard and somewhat brutal side, but their class of 2014 would offer something far more exciting to watch. There would be none of the dirty play and crunching challenges, but plenty of neat interchanges, quick breaks, and fast-paced football that would leave the shellshocked Germans wondering what had hit them.
After a slow opening five minutes the visitors would burst into life, chasing down every ball, closing down every black and red hooped shirt and using a balanced mix of pace and guile. Löw’s side would simply have to sit back and soak it up, and could have easily fallen behind inside the first ten minutes. A completely unmarked Arturo Vidal would have the entire goal at his mercy, but his weak effort would be cleared off the line by Lahm.
The German midfield had done nothing for the first quarter of an hour, but completely against the run of play things would click beautifully to provide the goal that would ultimately decide the contest. Bastian Schweinsteiger’s well-timed pass would find Mesut Özil, and despite a poor first touch the Arsenal winger would tap the ball neatly into space for Götze to provide a deliciously sweet finish. The Bayern München youngster would show his dancing feet again in the thirty-third minutes as he sent a well-hit curling effort just wide of the target, but apart from these bright moments it would be all Chile.
Mario Götze strikes to give the Mannschaft a flattering win
Löw had sprung a bit of a surprise in starting with Hamburger SV’s Marcell Jansen at left back, but after twenty-four minutes of being harassed by the pacy Chileans he would take a knock and be replaced by Marcel Schmelzer – who wasn’t actually much better. In fact, Marcel Marceau might have done a better job against the impressively sprightly Alexei Sánchez and Charles Aránguiz who were a constant threat. Out of the shaky back four, only one man would remain firm. Despite a mistake early on, FC Bayern centre-back Jérôme Boateng would turn in a strong defensive display.
If the first half was bad, the second half would be even worse. Forced even further on the back foot, the vulnerable German defence would be saved by the Chileans’ inability to hit the target – though they would come mightily close to levelling the scores just after the hour mark when the ubiquitous Sánchez would rattle the underside of the crossbar. The only German chance – if one can call it that – was when Chilean ‘keeper Johnny Herrera would hit a clearance straight at substitute Lukas Podolski that would roll wide of the goal.
Jorge Sampaoli’s side would continue to attack right until the end, and when the final whistle blew it would bring relief to the German coach. Despite winning the game, there would be plenty of whistles for the German players as they made their way off the pitch.
Conclusion and Ratings
With just four friendlies before the serious stuff begins in Brazil in June, this game was always going to be taken seriously – though at the end we had learned nothing new. The defence were still suspect when put under pressures, the midfield would have no Plan B in the face of an opponent not prepared to sit back, and the coach would be unable to alter his tactics sufficiently to change the course of the match. The substitutions would have little effect, and the Chileans would pretty much be allowed to dictate the pace and flow of the game as they pleased.
Given that Germany’s next three opponents are nowhere near as good as Chile, one has to wonder what else we can learn about the team between now and June. Poland are not the most testing opponent, Armenia should be little more than cannon fodder and Cameroon are hardly going to set the world alight. Chile are just the sort of high-quality opponent that the Mannschaft will have to deal with in Brazil, and the worry is that they may enter the tournament without addressing all of their weaknesses.
A somewhat strange game for the German ‘keeper, who would have to watch his team struggle in front of him and not have to make a difficult save. Should have been beaten by Vidal who should have done better and would be rooted to the spot as the ball cannoned off the underside of the bar, but would have been blameless in both situations. Was his usual dominant self whenever the ball came his way. WM Watch: A fixture in the side, punkt.
A solid performance from the recalled BVB utility man, slotting into the role that he has only recently become familiar with. Was beaten for pace early on by Chile’s attacking left back Jean Beausejour, but as the game went on would settle down a lot better. Strong and aggressive without being reckless, Großkreutz would make more than one goal-saving challenge. WM Watch: a decent return to international football for the Dortmund man, who should surely make the provisional squad list. Similar performances in the remaining games should see him on the plane to Brazil.
There were a few shaky moments for the tall centre-back, who would be caught out of position a few times by the fast-moving and very sharp Chilean attack. Mertesacker’s lack of mobility has always been his biggest problem, and this will continue to be a weak point for the defence as a whole. WM Watch: despite a slightly patchy performance Mertesacker is still looking to have a safe ticket to Brazil.
A small error at the start to almost let in Vidal, but after that an excellent display where he would exercise good control against difficult opponents. Made more than one crucial challenge, and at this point is far and away the first-choice centre-back. WM Watch: Another solid performance from the FC Bayern man, and barring injury or a massive drop in form a ticket to the finals is pretty much in the bag.
Surprisingly picked to start at left-back ahead of Marcel Schmelzer, Jansen would be given a torrid time before having to limp off with an untimely injury after twenty-four minutes. Replaced by Schmelzer. WM Watch: one right on the fringes of team selection, but given the dearth of left-backs may well be named in the final twenty-three for his experience alone.
The skipper would turn out a decent enough performance in defensive midfield, but his work would largely be defensive in what was a difficult match for everyone. Perhaps his most significant contribution would be his headed clearance off the line from Vidal in the eighth minute. WM Watch: Like Manuel Neuer, one of the skipper is one of those players who is indispensable.
Playing in his first non-competitive international since the Autumn of 2011, the Bayern midfielder would turn out a solid display. Helped set up the winning goal by providing the initial pass to Mesut Özil, and at the other end showed his defensive abilities when called upon. Not fully fit, but will surely get better. WM Watch: provided he remains fit, Schweinsteiger is another one of those names that should automatically be on the flight to South America in the summer.
Coming into the match of the back of a number of below-par performances for his club, a somewhat subdued Özil would have a fairly quiet game by his usual high standards, but despite that would still set up Mario Götze’s winning strike. Replaced with a minute remaining by debutant Matthias Ginter. WM Watch: despite his recent poor form, Özil is one of those players essential to Jogi Löw’s master plan.
Kroos has looked brilliant in recent outings for his club, but in the Nationaltrikot would turn out a performance that was at best ordinary. Brilliant for Bayern, he continues to look slightly lost in the system employed by Jogi Löw. With the team struggling to maintain possession Kroos would find it hard to play his normal game, and one badly-timed pass would almost prove costly. WM Watch: one who will be on the shortlist, but not necessarily guaranteed so start in Brazil.
With the entire midfield being subdued by the high-pressure game played by the Chileans, it would be a bits and pieces performance from the Bayern starlet. His goal would be a thing of beauty, and on thirty-three minutes would show some great skill before sending another nicely-timed effort narrowly wide. Like everyone else was guilty of a number of sloppy passes, but was probably the best of an below-par bunch on the night. Replaced after eighty-three minutes by Lukas Podolski. WM Watch: One of the definites, but his exact role continues to remain something of a mystery.
Having little time to recover after playing a league game on Sunday evening, the veteran striker would look distinctly out of sorts as he resumed his challenge to overhaul Gerd Müller’s forty-year goalscoring record. Provided little, and was replaced by André Schürrle at the start of the second half. WM Watch: as one of the Mannschaft’s few experienced specialist strikers, a fit Klose will almost certainly be part of the final twenty-three.
The Chelsea winger would come on for Klose after the half-time break, but despite showing the odd burst of pace would have very few chances to impress. Was virtually anonymous for much of his forty-five minutes on the pitch. WM Watch: having worked his way back into the reckoning Schürrle will be looking to up his game in the three remaining fixtures to make sure of his place in the final squad.
Slotting in as a replacement for the injured Jansen after twenty-four minutes, Schmelzer would be given a thorough working over by the triumvirate of Mauricio Isla, Charles Aránguiz and Alexis Sánchez. Was caught short on numerous occasions, and saved only by the profligacy of the Chileans in front of goal. WM Watch: Schmelzer is one of those who will probably make the final cut, though more by accident than design on account of the very few options available at left-back.
Joachim Löw is clearly on a mission to help Podolski overhaul Lothar Matthäus’ record of 150 international appearances, and the Arsenal man would come on for Götze seven minutes from the end to win his 112th cap. Would almost be gifted a chance by Chilean ‘keeper Johnny Herrera seconds after his arrival, but apart from that it would be a case of going through the motions. WM Watch: so long as he is able to stand, Podolski will be on the plane to Brazil.
A gentle two-minute stroll for the SC Freiburg defender, who would replace Özil to become the 58th player to be capped under Joachim Löw. WM Watch: likely to miss out this time in making the final squad list, but with the continued worries in defence he will always be in with a chance.
Neuer (3), Großkreutz (4), Boateng, (4), Mertesacker (5), Jansen (4), Lahm (3), Schweinsteiger (3), Özil (4), Kroos (3), Götze (2), Klose (5). Substitutes (until 75 mins): Schmelzer (5), Schürrle (4).
Neuer (1.5), Großkreutz (3), Boateng (3.5), Mertesacker (3.5), Jansen (NR), Lahm (3), Schweinsteiger (4.5), Özil (4.5), Kroos (4.5), Götze (3.5), Klose (5). Subs: Schmelzer (4.5), Schürrle (5).
Neuer (3), Großkreutz (3.5), Boateng, (3), Mertesacker (4.5), Jansen (6), Lahm (3), Schweinsteiger (3), Özil (4), Kroos (5), Götze (3), Klose (5). Subs: Schmelzer (5), Schürrle (4).