The first match of the 2013/14 season – and indeed the first tentative steps on the road to next year’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil – would be taken on a dry evening in Kaiserslautern’s Fritz-Walter-Stadion. The opposition: Paraguay, a team firmly rooted at the base of their qualifying group.
With Nationaltrainer Joachim Löw playing an almost full-strength side – unlike all of the other early season friendlies in recent years that have seen a smattering of fringe players and debutants – many would have expected the home side to stroll to an easy and confidence-boosting victory.
The reality was another story. Indeed, at times, a horror story. A failure to fire up front, tactical errors, and the defensive frailty that has plagued the team for a while now. While the swamping by the United States in the summer could be put down to a team that was short on experience, there would be no excuses here. The coach may well have described the defensive performance as “erratic”, but we all know the truth: it is the one thing holding back this clearly talented German squad.
Facts and Stats
This would be Germany’s second game against Paraguay, with the first being played in South Korea during the 2002 FIFA World Cup. Then coached by Rudi Völler, a workmanlike Mannschaft would take their time in breaking down a solid Paraguayan defence, with winger-cum-striker Oliver Neuville hooking in a well-taken winner with just two minutes of normal time remaining.
The Paraguay side that day would include a twenty year old Roque Santa Cruz – now team captain – while Germany would be spearheaded by a twenty-four year old Klose.
Germany would be coming into the match on the back of a 4-3 defeat in Washington DC against the United States, while Paraguay under new coach Víctor Genés would just be looking for anything that could boost their shattered confidence. The South Americans’ last victory had come against El Salvador in February, and since then had managed a draw against Uruguay before suffering a 4-1 thrashing in Ecuador – beaten 4-1 themselves by Germany in the summer – and a 2-1 home defeat by Chile.
The Team and Tactics
Jogi Löw’s squad would include no massive surprises, and would be arranged in the the tradional 4-2-3-1, with Miroslav Klose up front. Having already picked up where he had left off last season with his club side Lazio, the veteran striker would see this match as the perfect opportunity to finally equal Gerd Müller’s long-standing international goalscoring record.
Manuel Neuer would be back between the sticks, the back four would look familiar enough, the not-quite-fit Bastian Schweinsteiger’s slot in the defensive spine alongside Sami Khedira would be taken by the ever-improving İlkay Gündoğan, and the “pick three from many” offensive midfield trio would consist of the mercurial Mesut Özil, der Raumdeuter Thomas Müller and BVB’s golden boy Marco Reus.
The home side would begin well enough and would almost immediately expose the holes in the Paraguayan defence, but it would be Los Guaraníes who would take a shock lead with less than ten minutes on the clock. A fast break would catch the flat-footed German defence completely cold, and the much-praised Mats Hummels would look rather amateurish as he was outfoxed and outpaced by José Núñez.
If the first goal was bad enough, Paraguay’s second just four minutes later would be an absolute shocker. With Neuer having punched away Miguel Samudio’s speculative effort, it would be left to Khedira to simply hoof the ball up the field. Instead, he tried something else and only succeeded in setting up Wilson Pittoni to double Paraguay’s lead.
Despite going two goals down in the blink of an eye and facing a barracking from the home fans, Germany were always going to look good for a goal – it would just be a matter of scoring more that the opposition and just take the defensive blunders on the nose. İlkay Gündoğan would pull one back with a well-taken left-footed curler and then show great awareness to clear a curling Paraguayan corner off the line, but just minutes later the man who was looking good to be Germany’s man of the match was hobbling off injured.
Thankfully, Gündoğan’s replacement Lars Bender would do the job just fine and ultimately be the team’s salvation – saving them and the coach from even greater media opprobrium.
Having been shown up in defence, Hummels would turn provider with a lovely long ball to set up Thomas Müller’s well-taken equaliser on the half-hour mark, but any hope that the Germans might now pr3ess on to victory having drawn back level were quashed with yet another defensive foul-up. Again, the red and white shirts would break from nowhere, and after poor Hummels had been torn a new one by Santa Cruz down the right Samudio would bury the chance. Neuer might have tried to stop the cross, but all blame would lie with the defence yet again.
The second half would see Germany boss the possession and keep banging on the door, and they would finally square the affair courtesy of the impressive Bender. With Klose looking uncharacteristically flat and the all-at-sea Mario Gómez disappearing into a world of ridiculous backheel attempts it would take a man who has in recent months acquired a decent eye for goal to spare the coach’s blushes.
Defensively, the introduction of Jérôme Boateng in place of Per Mertesacker would bring more steel to the lineup, and by no great coincidence Paraguay would offer next to nothing for most of the second half.
Conclusion and Ratings
This match would be billed as the first steps on the road to Brazil, but it would instead reopen a number of old wounds. In the first half, the defence would be a complete and utter shambles. With Hummels showing a distinct lack of awareness and Mertesacker once again attempting to play the role of a shop mannequin it was always going to be a recipe for disaster against the team that would always threaten on the break. One doesn’t want to imagine what might happen against the likes of Argentina or Brazil.
Boateng would make a massive difference – he and Hummels are a far more natural central defensive partnership – and Lahm would have his moments, but Schmelzer is still proving to be something of a weak link. He may not be a whole lot better, but I’d fancy giving Marcell Jansen a start next time up.
The midfield would be a mixed bag. Both Gündoğan and his replacement Bender would be the stand-out performers, Khedira would have a really off day and look truly awful, while both Mesut Özil and Marco Reus would show the occasional silky touch but ultimately flatter to deceive. Thomas Müller meanwhile would duck in and out of his usual anonymity with some nice touches and an excellent goal.
In addition to the ongoing defensive worries, the other problems would appear up front. I would have backed Klose to score that record-equalling goal, but he would be lacking his usual zip and clinical finishing. His replacement Gómez however would be even worse. After testing Paraguyan ‘keeper Roberto Fernández with a sharp header he would disappear into his own personal ether, stumbling about and attempting ridiculous backheels. It may well be that neither Klose nor Gómez ends up on the plane to Brazil next summer.
Might have done better in trying to prevent the third Paraguay goal, but overall could do nothing to change what happened. Other than having to pluck the ball out his own net on three occasions, the FC Bayern München ‘keeper would have a fairly quiet evening and might as well have had a nap for the entire second half.
A solid if unspectacular ninety minutes from the skipper. Showed the odd spark going forward and was rarely tested at the back. In short, nothing to praise and nothing to criticise.
Spent most of the first half floundering like an amateur and was outdone for pace on numerous occasions. Looked decent enough going forward, but had clearly forgotten that he is employed as a defender. He may have share the same shirt number as Franz Beckenbauer, but that is where any comparison ends.
The Nationalmannschaft’s answer to a tailor’s dummy – I have seen more movement in the shop windows on Savile Row. Was left standing for the first goal and simply doesn’t inspire confidence. Replaced by Jérôme Boateng at half-time.
Another ordinary performance by the Dortmund left back, and Marcel Marceau would have probably done better. Still not the finished article, and after being given so many chances one has to wonder whether he will ever be. The real problem is that there are few viable alternatives at the moment. Replaced after eighty-one minutes by Marcell Jansen.
Khedira is one of my favourite players, and for me has long been a must-have in the starting eleven. However this would be a disjointed and error-filled display, with his botched clearance leading the second Paraguay goal being the lowlight. He was arguably a much better player at Stuttgart: maybe being amongst the Galacticos in Madrid is going to his head.
Where Khedira was bad, İlkay Gündoğan was excellent – to the point where it is feasible that he could end up shunting the Madrid man down the order and start with Bastian Schweinsteiger. Showed great touch and scored a lovely goal, but was unfortunately replaced after just twenty-seven minutes by Lars Bender.
A typical Raumdeuter performance from the enigmatic Müller, who showed great energy and flitted between being the centre of the play and complete anonymity. Was dangerous down the right and was unlucky not to have at least one of his crosses finished off, and scored a well-taken goal. Replaced by André Schürrle with nine minutes remaining.
There were many moments of brilliance from Germany’s playmaker, but nothing that would make any real difference. Normally one would expect at least goal-creating pass or killer through-ball, but the best he could offer were a couple of shot that went wide of the target.
Forced a decent save out of Paraguay ‘keeper Justo Villar early on, but like Özil lacked his usual fizz. Would have a couple of half-chances that on another day may well have been converted into goals. Replaced by Lukas Podolski after sixty-two minutes.
Had a great chance to level Gerd Müller’s recorded when he lobbed the ball over the Paraguay net in the eleventh minute, but after that is was all huff and puff from the veteran front man. Was not his usual sharp self and his link play was not a fluent as usual. Replaced nine minutes into the second half by Mario Gómez.
Came on from İlkay Gündoğan after just twenty-seven minutes and slotted right in. Was solid at the back and error-free, and a silent source of danger going forward. Capped off a man-of-the-match performance with a well-taken strike to spare the coach’s blushes and do himself a world of good in his attempt to climb up the selection pecking order.
Came on for the disappointing Mertesacker at the start of the second half, and almost immediately had an impact. Fulfilled his role with some excellent positioning and strong challenges, and was also adventurous going forward. He could do with a little practice with the long-range efforts, but this would just be a bonus.
Replaced the ailing Klose early on in the second half, and almost immediately would get a sharp header on target. It would be a false dawn however as after that there would be more of the same. Poor positioning, scuffed shots and mistimed backheels would be the order of the evening for the Fiorentina striker.
Was given thirty minutes on the field after replacing Marco Reus, and continued on his way to Lothar Matthäus’ 150-cap record without really doing much.
Replaced Marcel Schmelzer after eighty-one minutes to win his fortieth cap, and put in a positive performance despite the limited opportunity. Got a good headed attempt on goal that was well saved by the Paraguayan ‘keeper.
A late replacement for Thomas Müller, Chelsea’s new signing would have an opportunity to win the game right at the death, but would blaze his shot over the target. Not much of an opportunity, but he can now claim to have a quarter-century of international caps.
Neuer (4), Lahm (3), Mertesacker (5), Hummels (6), Schmelzer (5), Khedira (5), Gündoğan (3), T. Müller (3), Özil (5), Reus (4), Klose (4). Subs (before 75 mins): L. Bender (3), Boateng (3), Gómez (4)
Neuer (3.5), Lahm (4), Mertesacker (4.5), Hummels (5), Schmelzer (3.5), Khedira (4.5), Gündoğan (2), T. Müller (3), Özil (4.5), Reus (4.5), Klose (4). Subs: L. Bender (2), Boateng (3), Gómez (4), Podolski ()
Neuer (4), Lahm (4), Mertesacker (5), Hummels (6), Schmelzer (5), Khedira (6), Gündoğan (2), T. Müller (3), Özil (4), Reus (5), Klose (5). Subs: L. Bender (2), Boateng (3), Gómez (6), Podolski (4)