As had been the case with South Africa four years earlier, the buildup to the World Cup in Brazil would be plagued with problems. Stories of unfinished stadiums, endemic corruption, ticket sales scams and the threat of ongoing protests against disproportionate government spending threatened to derail the tournament, and stories of public discontent would be a far cry from the vision of Brazil being a nation of football-loving people ready to welcome the world for a month-long festival.
There were problems: an increased police and military presence in the cities was immediately apparent and sporadic protests took place across the country, and during the tournament an overpass in Belo Horizonte would collapse, resulting in the deaths of two people. But the pre-tournament fears of mass anarchy on the streets wouldn’t materialise, and on the pitch Brazil 2014 would turn into one of the most memorable tournaments in decades.
After the monotony of the vuvuzela in South Africa there was a more traditional sound in the stadiums across Brazil, with that traditional carnival feel whenever the home side were playing. Perhaps the major talking point would be the spread of the stadiums across the country and the varying weather conditions: from the Amazonian city of Manaus to the roasting north-eastern cities of Salvador and Fortaleza to the almost European damp and cold of Porto Alegre, the thirty-two teams encountered a number of different climactic conditions.
There were a couple of new innovations during the tournament. Largely driven by the controversy in 2010 over Frank Lampard’s disallowed “goal” against Germany in Bloemfontein in 2010, goal line technology would be introduced for the first time at a major tournament. Some commentators – such as the BBC’s Jonathan Pearce – continued to be confused by the entire concept, but overall there were very few contestable decisions.
The other innovation would be the use of a special spray foam by referees to mark out the correct distances at free-kicks – something that at the beginning of the tournament intrigued European watchers even though it had been used for a number of years in South American football.
The first phase – the now standard format of eight groups of four teams – produced a glut of goals, and at one point the goals to games ratio would be at its highest point for almost sixty years. In the end, a total of 171 goals were scored in the sixty-four matches played with an average of 2.67 goals per game – matching the statistics for the first 32-team competition in France in 1998. A total of ten different grounds were used in the tournament, which would start in São Paulo on June 12th and end in Rio de Janeiro on July 13th.
A number of high-profile teams saw themselves eliminated before the competition had really began, among them Italy, England and in perhaps the biggest shock, reigning world champions Spain who found themselves unable to pick themselves up after a memorable 5-1 hammering at the hands of the Netherlands – the team they had beaten in the 2010 final.
Along with the flood of goals there was plenty of other on-pitch drama, from refereeing controversies involving the host nation through the infamous moment during the match between Uruguay and Italy when Uruguayan striker Luis Suárez was caught on camera having a nibble on Italian Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder.
As in 2010, Germany were the tournament’s most prolific goalscorers with eighteen goals in their seven games. Eight different players would get onto the scoreboard for the Nationalmannschaft, in a competition where they would prove to be the best team against a number of opponents largely be carried by big-name individuals.
Qualifying Campaign and pre-tournament build-up
Germany were drawn in a six-team group for the qualification stages of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and found themselves pitted against a mix of familiar opponents and old friends: Austria, the Faroe Islands, Kazakhstan, the Republic of Ireland and Sweden.
Both Austria and Kazakhstan would be very familiar in that both sides had been part of the Nationalmannschaft’s qualifying group for Euro 2012, while the Faroe Islands and the Irish had been amongst the opposition during the Euro 2004 and Euro 2008 qualifying campaigns. While the Swedes had met the Germans in recent tournament finals (FIFA World Cup 2006, Euro 1992) this would be the first time the sides had met in qualifying since the 1986 FIFA World Cup.
Germany’s campaign would get under way at home against the Faroe Islands in the autumn of 2012 and concluded in Stockholm against Sweden in October 2013, and Joachim Löw’s side accumulate a record thirty-six goals in their ten matches – surpassing the thirty-three scored in eight matches during qualification for Spain 1982. They would go unbeaten for the third qualifying group in succession, winning nine of their ten matches.
The conclusion of the campaign saw the Mannschaft stretch their unbeaten record in qualifying competition to thirty-two games (including twenty-nine victories), with their last defeat coming during the Euro 2008 campaign and a dead-rubber home defeat against the Czech Republic in October 2007.
The free-scoring Mannschaft racked up a round half a dozen goals in thrashing the Republic of Ireland in Dublin and scored three or more goals in all but one of their matches (the 2-1 win in Vienna against Austria), but the highlight of the campaign had to be the two matches against Sweden, which produced a staggering sixteen goals. The first encounter in Berlin had seen Löw’s side storm into a four-goal lead before collapsing completely to drop their only points of the campaign, while the return in Stockholm saw André Schürrle score a spectacular hat-trick as Germany came back from 2-0 down to charge to an impressive 5-3 win.
The victory in Sweden extended the Nationalmannschaft’s astonishing record away from home in World Cup qualifiers: since March 1934 they have played forty-two games on the road, winning thirty-two and drawing ten.
The final buildup to the tournament would produce something of a mixed bag of results. Domestic league and cup commitments resulted in what was effectively a B-Team playing Poland in the middle of May, with a very strange-looking German team drawing 0-0 in Hamburg.
Before the penultimate warmup match with Cameroon in Mönchengladbach the provisional squad of thirty was named, but the game itself would ask far plenty of questions of the team and the coach Joachim Löw’s tactics. Against energetic and physical but not exactly high-quality opposition Germany would fall a goal behind, and despite fighting back to take the lead the spectre of the weak defence raised its ugly head once again as the Africans grabbed a late equaliser.
The final pre-tournament match against Armenia in Mainz saw pretty much the same until the hour mark, when substitute Lukas Podolski took it upon himself to turn the game around almost single-handedly. The score at been locked at 1-1 with just twenty minutes remaining, but five unanswered goals would show the home crowd just what their team was capable of.
It was all be happiness and light, however. Injuries had plagued the German team for months leading up to the tournament, with the likes of Mario Gómez, İlkay Gündoğan, Sven and Lars Bender falling by the wayside. However the most crippling blow was the injury to the Bundesliga’s player of the season, Marco Reus. Less then twenty-four hours before the final squad of twenty-three were named, the talented Borussia Dortmund winger would be ruled out of the World Cup with a torn ankle ligament.
Germany’s Tournament in brief
Injuries, ongoing defensive problems and the ongoing discussion about the coach’s tactics provided the prelude to the opening game against Portugal in Salvador, which since the draw had been made was seen as the Nationalmannschaft’s toughest opponents – in what had widely been described as the tournament’s “group of death”.
Having gone into the tournament with both Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger not fully fit and playing captain Philipp Lahm as the defensive midfield marshal, Jogi Löw employed his starting eleven as a 4-3-3, with the entire defence composed of specialist centre-backs. A slightly shaky opening spell would shift the focus onto the back four, but an early penalty from Thomas Müller swung the game back in the Nationalmannschaft’s direction. A well executed set-piece header from Mats Hummels doubled the lead, and when the hotheaded Portuguese defender Pepe saw red after a ridiculous playground headbutt on Müller, the Iberians were left with a mountain to climb.
Two more goals from German’s “World Cup Wonder” settled the issue either side of half-time, and as in 2002, 2006 and 2010 the tournament had begun with a wonderful goal rush. Only this time it wouldn’t be Saudi Arabia, Costa Rica or Australia, but a highly-rated European side with the world footballer of the year among their number.
If the opener against Portugal had provided a spectacular riposte to the naysayers, the following game against Ghana in a baking hot Fortaleza would bring all of the old ghosts back again. Nobody could have guessed what would happen after Mario Götze had given Germany the lead early in the second half, but two well-worked responses from the energetic Ghanaians turned things completely on their head. In the end it would take an inspired substitution from Jogi Löw and a typically clinical finish from the evergreen Miroslav Klose to salvage a point. In netting his equaliser, Klose equalled Brazilian Ronaldo’s record as the World Cup’s all-time top goalscorer.
With a point needed in the final group game against the United States – a meeting that saw Löw cross swords with his former boss Jürgen Klinsmann – the team delivered a far more solid performance, with a lovely curling strike from the inevitable Müller enough to clinch the three points and with it the top spot in the group and a second phase tie against surprise package Algeria.
In a game loaded with historical baggage going back to a time when only two of the current German squad had been born, The Nationalelf were given a real scare – and were perhaps only saved by a combination of their opponents’ profligacy in front of goal and a monumental performance from ‘keeper Manuel Neuer. In a game that stretched into extra-time, Germany’s quality would finally sway the result in a close 2-1 win.
It was here however that things were switched up another gear. Running against all of his pre-tournament proclamations and criticised intransigence, Jogi Löw made the decision to switch back to the more tried and tested 4-2-3-1 for the quarter-final against a dangerous French side. The result was yet another solid performance, one that saw the Germans have far less possession but finish the game on top in a style that reminded many of the 1980s. With confidence high at making their fourth semi-final in a row – a new record – Löw’s squad travel onto Belo Horizonte to take on hosts Brazil.
Nobody would have anticipated the outcome after a slightly shaky opening five minutes in the Estádio Mineirão, but the game against the Brazilians would become yet another story in the Nationalmannschaft’s long and rich footballing, and one that would become knitted into the fabric of footballing folklore. Another Müller effort gave Löw’s side a eleventh-minute lead, but an astonishing four goals in the space of six minutes would put them 5-0 ahead by half-time. In much the same way as the Hungarian team had put England to the sword at Wembley in 1953, Germany would tear the desperate hosts aside with a footballing masterclass.
In the end, the 7-1 victory didn’t even flatter the visitors as they wrote and rewrote a hatful of records. Brazil had not lost at home for close to forty years, yet here they were being subjected to their biggest defeat in history in a game that would see produce biggest margin of victory in a World Cup semi-final and the biggest thrashing ever meted out to a host country.
Having stormed into the final on such a massive wave, defeat against Argentina in the final would have been the ultimate cruel blow. Germany’s third showcase meeting with the Albiceleste in twenty-eight years would be far competitive than the semi-final, and in a finely balanced game the South Americans would have their chances. Both defences had managed to survive the ninety minutes with clean sheets, and eight minutes into the second period of extra time the deadlock had still not been broken. With Argentina now looking to shut up shop, everyone had started to steel themselves for the inevitable Elfmeterschießen.
But then came that spark of magic, that sublime moment of skill that would provide the perfect complement to the thrashing of the hosts five days earlier. While the semi-final had seen the Germans deliver a fleet-footed footballing lesson to the five-times world champions, the final would provide the perfect illustration of their fighting spirit. Mario Götze’s spectacular chest-down and volley was a goal to win any World Cup, but the game would be won with the presence of ‘keeper Neuer, the defensive solidity of Jérôme Boateng and the heroic performance of Bastian Schweinsteiger, who emerged battered, bloodied and bruised but ultimately victorious.
In 2006, Germany had shown a new face to the world. In 2010, a young team had continued to build and impress the watching world without being able to leap that final hurdle. In 2014, the mission was complete. The “golden generation” that had promised so much had finally delivered.
v Portugal First Phase Group G, Salvador, 16.06.2014 Summary »
v Ghana, First Phase Group Group G, Fortaleza, 21.06.2014 Summary »
v United States First Phase Group G, Recife, 26.06.2014 Summary »
v Algeria, Second Phase, Porto Alegre, 30.06.2014 Summary »
v France, Quarter-Final, Rio de Janeiro, 04.07.2014 Summary »
v Brazil, Semi-Final, Belo Horizonte, 08.07.2014 Summary »
v Argentina, World Cup Final, Rio de Janeiro, 13.07.2014 Summary »