So it begins...

Finally, after all the pre-tournament hype, we have seen some football. The opening game would see the hosts Brazil record a 3-1 win over Croatia, but the score would not really reflect what had happened over the ninety minutes. Two goals scored by a man who should arguably have been sent off for a flailing elbow, a penalty – taken by the same player – that should never have been awarded, and Croatian challenges being deemed as fouls. In other words, a man of the match performance from the referee.

Crowd riots in Sao Paolo, Pelé being wheeled out for the umpteenth on the BBC… Yes, Brazil 2014 is underway!

Müller’s Maracas

Meanwhile a few miles up the road at Camp Bahia the German team would be watching the game, after another good day’s training. Manuel Neuer is looking good for a return to the starting eleven, there are no new injury problems, and morale is good. We would even get to see Thomas Müller’s skill with the maracas when a group of local Pataxó tribespeople performed a welcome dance.

Is there nothing that man cannot do?

Lahm’s Location

With the press looking to hook on to anything of note in the days leading up to the Nationalmannschaft’s first group fixture against Portugal, Nationaltrainer Jogi Löw would provide the answer to one long-running question: where skipper Philipp Lahm will play. Having started in the defensive midfield against Armenia in the final warmup game, it will be the same against Portugal.

So, that’s settled then – and with this being the case it also means that Jérôme Boateng will start at right back, which in turn confirms the pairing of Mats Hummels and Per Mertesacker in the middle. At left-back it is a toss-up being inexperienced specialist Erik Durm and the experienced but role-adjusted Benedikt Höwedes, with Löw likely to plump for the latter on account of his strong performance in the last game – which also included a second international goal.

Lahm starting in the midfield also provides a partial answer to the issue of the defensive midfield, which will see one of Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger start out on the bench. Khedira started against Armenia and Schweinsteiger would replace him after an hour, which suggests that Khedira should start on Monday. Then there’s the option of Toni Kroos, who unlike both Khedira and Schweinsteiger is fully fit.

A false nine or a proper nine?

The attacking midfield, cruelly deprived of the services of Marco Reus, is the one area where we might see a surprise. Having impressed against the Armenians a resurgent Lukas Podolski has clearly turned his fortunes around, while André Schürrle has also impressed with two sprightly displays – and two goals in two games. With playmaker Mesut Özil a definite starter and Thomas Müller also on the list of indispensables, we should see one of Podolski or Schürrle start out on the left.

This then leaves the striker’s slot. The matches leading up to the tournament have led us all to believe that the now thirty-six year old Miroslav Klose will be preserved as an attacking second-half off-the-bench option, which leaves plenty of potential attacking combinations. Will the coach stick with his pet plan of putting Mario Götze up top, or will he leave the young FC Bayern München starlet on the bench and start with both Podolski and Schürrle? Even then, there are further permutations. One could go with Müller on the right, Podolski on the left and Schürrle up top, or even switch the versatile Chelsea winger to the right and have the arguably more productive Müller fill the “nine” role.

All of the above assumes that Löw starts with a familiar 4-2-3-1, but popular tabloid Bild has suggested the coach will start with a more elastic 4-3-3 – with Kroos joining Khedira and Lahm behind a triumvirate of Müller, Schürrle and Podolski. This of course means no start for either Götze or Özil. A starting eleven without Özil? I’d have to see that to believe it.

Bild's curious 4-3-3
Bild’s curious 4-3-3

Given the way the team played against Armenia and the impact made by Özil and Klose when they were both on the pitch at the same time, there is a certain logic to having both on the bench as part of an impact strategy. But then one could also say this of Podolski, who in recent games has been far better off the bench than he has been as a starter on account of the additional pace and direct play he brings. I myself have described this role as that of a “disruptor”.

Bring on Portugal!

As much as I promised not to get involved in this ongoing discussion until the Portugal game, I suppose I just cannot help myself. Monday cannot come soon enough. In fact, the only thing I’m slightly concerned about is the game being played in the middle of the afternoon.

The drama continues on the Portuguese side too, particularly concerning Cristiano Ronaldo. The Ballon D’or winner would exit the team’s latest training session early with an ice pack on his knee, but the management would simply say that this was a precautionary measure as part of a strategy not to overwork him. Sounds about right to me. In the image I have seen of Ronaldo wearing said ice pack with his hands covering his face, one of the coaching staff is smirking. Perhaps it’s all a game, a bluff to con foolish journalists like the Independent’s Tom Sheen into believing what they think they are seeing.

As much as Ronaldo not playing would provide a major confidence boost to those in the Mannschaft’s at times shaky back line, one player does not make an entire team – even if he might have scored all four of his side’s goals in their play-off against Sweden. While Portugal are clearly better with Ronaldo in their ranks, even without him they are always going to be a tough nut to crack.

So it begins…
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10 thoughts on “So it begins…

  • June 17, 2014 at 18:31


    I think the performance yesterday was almost perfect.
    Of corse there is always room for implrovements and I am sure it will come.
    Yogi Bear did very, very well. The tactic was very well choosen, the result and the lack of real changes from the opponent shown it all.
    Also the “Die Mannschaft” made a laughing stock of Ronaldo.
    Just think of the “One little Man Wall” …

    This team is lining up for bigger things…

    Would laugh when Mueller scores 3 against Ghana, gets replaced by Klose and Klose scores 3 more … 😀

    Impossible… no.

    • June 17, 2014 at 19:55

      Can’t disagree with that, especially the one man wall, the shortest wall in the history of international football I think!

      What we now need is another perfect performance to follow this one…

  • June 17, 2014 at 10:16

    We should not take this result for more than it is. It is 3 points for us and that’s it. The team needs to keep their heads down and remain focused. Everybody is acting like we’ve won the world cup, but the two most important things to take from this game is that we got 3 points, and Hummels. If Hummel’s injury is serious, then these 4 goals are meaningless. It will be a true disaster, even more than Reus’s absence.

    Positives: We got 3 points, second half we did little effort so it was like a training run, preserving valuable energy. Muller and team’s confidence . Scored from a corner, the last time this happened was before the iphone. Kroos was brilliant.

    Negatives: Hummels injury, great opportunity to give Schweini and Klose some confidence in the second half squandered-I cannot understand Low.l feel he does it on purpose. Ozil seems not interested to be in Brazil. Gotze still squandering chances he shouldn’t. Howedes seemed awkward going forward, it’s just wrong to put him there. I am not sure if Low is playing 4-3-3- or 4-2-3-1 yet, I don’t think the players are sure either.

    • June 17, 2014 at 10:34

      Agreed, it’s all about the points. But we cannot deny that the nature of the win has provided a decent confidence boost, one that will be heightened when we hopefully get some good news on Hummels.

      About Schweini and Miro, I tend to agree – but right now I think Khedira is quickly picking up the pace, and Hummels’ injury removed the opportunity for a soft substitution. My three to come on would have been Podolski, Schürrle and Klose, but Löw was only able to bring two of the three on.

      Özil looks a little lost, and I have always thought that (i) he doesn’t look as good with Götze also on the pitch and (ii) he needs a mobile number nine in front of him, e.g. Klose. I have criticised Özil recently, but I think I have an idea where the problem is – he doesn’t quite fit into the current tactics.

      I thought Höwedes was OK. Yes, no real forward movement, but played his part in what was an encouraging defensive display with Boateng the standout.

  • June 17, 2014 at 09:05

    Great result for the Mannschaft. As usual the TV coverage leaves a lot to be desired. Lee Dixon and Adrian Chiles persistent blaming of Thomas Müller’s reactions was ridiculous. Pepe is nothing short of a thug, yet those two persisted in their blaming of Müller. Patrick Vieira gave a good account and spoke sense. My brother was astounded that the goals were not the feature of the half-time analysis. I hope Mats Hummels is ok.

    • June 17, 2014 at 10:26

      I watched the game live on ARD, and scanned through the live coverage when I got home – I will be doing the minute by minute later today and will watch it again.

      I had heard that Chiles in particular was going beyond his usual stupid self, and I made a point of watching what can very loosely be passed off as a half-time analysis.

      Yes, Müller made a meal of it. He was gently palmed in the face, and did go down dramatically – we would have been spitting bricks. However, what happened then should have been left to the referee. I am probably going to write a little something on Chiles, who I would like to see dropped into the Amazon – preferably an area infested with piranha – from a great height.

      I think we are all waiting on news about Mats Hummels, though. That was not pleasant.

  • June 15, 2014 at 12:46

    Hey everyone, a rather long comment but have been postponing for a few days.

    Germany team: I do not agree with Lahm in the Midfield, he should be on the left of the defense and Boateng on the right. Durm is a bit of a risk to play against Portugal and Howedes rather looks uncomfortable delivering crosses with his left foot.
    Not sure if anyone noticed this, but Low already did play a versatile 4-3-3 formation against Armenia. It was Khedira on the left, Lahm in the Middle, and Kroos on the right of Midifeld. It is not true that Kroos was playing behind Muller in a 4-2-3-1, it was more Khedira who was always in the opposition box and Kroos behind. This is fine as long as Kroos takes the Center of the field and he doesn’t play a supporting role on the left or right.

    In attack, Rues, Muller, and Schurrle were all switching places all the time.

    • June 17, 2014 at 10:05

      I wasn’t keen either, but it seems to have worked. Lahm held the midfield together well, and Boateng and Khedira pretty much killed Ronaldo.

      Let’s hope for some consistency moving forward now.

  • June 14, 2014 at 14:24

    It was a cruel blow to lose Reus. A fantastic player but at least die Mannschaft has an array of attacking talent and has many options offensively. On the subject of Brazil, I am completely convinced Neymar should have been sent off. Unfortunately the referee bottled it. I bet he was ‘advised’ to take it easy. I think Brazil’s best player the other night was Oscar. Neymar was overrated.

    I also find it excruciating and downright embarrassing the hype the BBC and especially the ITV are indulging in. I cannot stand this preoccupation the English have in wallowing in the Brazil team. Maybe because of the constant failure of the England team they have to jump on the Brazil bandwagon.

    Although I don’t like the Dutch I enjoyed watching Spain get thrashed last night. I detest their tiki taki style (which they seem to have abandoned with a more direct approach to suit Diego Costa up front). Robben had a great game.

    I honestly believe the only team that could be the real threat to Germany is Argentina. Of course Portugal is going to be a difficult game on Monday and the USA and Ghana wont be slouches but Germany usually has a lot of possession in games which can tire the opposition out. The biggest worry (as always) is the defence. Role on Monday!

    • June 14, 2014 at 17:21

      I’m glad I’m not the only one tired of the love-fest for what is an ordinary and rather cynical Brazilian side. It is as if time was stuck in 1970, for this is where the bandwagon is clearly attached.

      I’ve never been a fan of the Dutch, but I do like Robben. It was nice to see him take Spain apart – if only the rest of the Bayern team had helped him to do the same against Madrid earlier this season!

      I agree with you about Argentina, but the proof will come once we have seen everyone in action. Yes, roll on Monday!


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