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Exceptional Hummels & Badstuber follow in Beckenbauer's footsteps as Germany turn defensive weakness into strength

Exceptional Hummels & Badstuber follow in Beckenbauer's footsteps as Germany turn defensive weakness into strength

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Joachim Low's trust in replicating the all-round dominance of the Kaiser's side has paid off as what once was a deficiency has become one of the Mannschaft's most impressive points

 Clark Whitney
 Euro 2012 correspondent
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ANALYSIS

For most of its history, German football has had a reputation for emphasising strength in defence. This comes not necessarily in exclusion of an attractive attack; the two are by no means mutually exclusive. But with such great names as Beckenbauer, Schwarzenbeck, Breitner, Augenthaler, and Matthaus having worn Schwarz und Weiss (Black and White), the Mannschaft's reputation is deserved.

In recent years, however, this standing has been somewhat lost, due mostly to a dearth of top-class defenders and the propensity of Bundesliga teams to hemorrhage goals in continental play. The focus of reform over the last 12 years has been to make German football more attractive, a tall order in the absence of a full team of elite players. In many instances, the results have been disastrous: playing with a high defensive line and attempting to press their opponents in the attacking half, modest sides like Werder Bremen and Bayer Leverkusen have conceded up to seven goals in a single game. The revolution was a step in the right direction, but without enough individual class, the end product has been calamitous.

HUMMELS' DOMINANCE V NETHERLANDS

 
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Another towering display from the Borussia Dortmund centre-back. Caught out by a long ball early on but his positioning, anticipation and strength all stifled the Dutch attack. Stepped up into midfield well when in possession
Euro 2012 has shown the collective strength of Bundesliga stars, as well as some abroad, justifying the modern German model. With class in every position, the Mannschaft have won two difficult matches against Portugal and Netherlands, and need just a point against Denmark to clinch top spot in Group B.

The real break-out sensation has been Mats Hummels, whose attributes encapsulate the German footballing philosophy. Most modern centre-backs are hard-tackling, physical brutes who spend more time in the weights room than practicing with a ball. But while Hummels is no shrinking violet, he has a complete skill set: not just tackling, but positioning, anticipation, man-marking ability - even elite strikers rarely make more than a few touches per game when matched against him. And to boot, the 23-year-old is perhaps the best passing centre-back in the world.

The broad range of Hummels' qualities are such a rarity that one has to look back several decades to find an appropriate comparison. In a recent interview with Goal.com, Olaf Thon provided the Dortmund centre-back the ultimate compliment when suggesting he is "a bit like [Franz] Beckenbauer."

"I think Hummels can be the best defensive player at Euro 2012," the World Cup winner added. "This is a tournament in which he can learn. In two or three years he can be the leader of the team."

"Beckenbauer is a role model for the new generation in Germany. The players don't want to just fight, but also to intimidate them with technical class"

- Olaf Thon

Brilliant as he has been, the Dortmund centre-back would not be such a success without a reliable partner alongside him, and Holger Badstuber has proven the perfect complement. The Bayern man is not quite as complete as Hummels, and has in the past taken heavy criticism for lacking the typical attributes of a modern elite defender. He is by no means quick, and while he has put on some weight over the last 12 months, he still is not particularly powerful. When it comes to one-on-one defending, these deficiencies are often exposed.

Given the many alternatives available - Jerome Boateng, Benedikt Howedes, and Per Mertesacker to name a few - it might come as a surprise that Joachim Low has placed so much faith in a centre-back who lacks the characteristics typically valued in modern defenders. But the trainer has his reasons, and based on results, no one can argue. Like Hummels, Badstuber's talents are in the more subtle aspects of defending. He may not be the best in one-on-ones, but it's rare that he finds himself in such situations, a virtue in itself. He makes up for his lack of speed with quick thinking, and the statistics speak volumes of his influence: of all the clubs competing in Europe last season, Bayern conceded the fewest per game. As for skill on the ball, there are few better.

Badstuber and Hummels buck the trend for modern defenders, but again, their results are fantastic, conceding just once - and only due to an exceptional finish, at that - against two elite attacking teams at Euro 2012 is exceptional. And the beauty of their game and skill on the ball conjures memories of Germany's finest generation.

GERMANY'S BACK FIVE

Philipp LAHM
Age: 28
Caps: 88


Holger BADSTUBER
Age: 23
Caps: 22


Mats HUMMELS
Age: 23
Caps: 16


Jerome BOATENG
Age: 23
Caps: 23


Manuel NEUER
Age: 26
Caps: 28

As Thon asserts: "I think Beckenbauer is a role model for the new generation in Germany. The players don't want to just physically fight against their opponents, but also intimidate them with technical class."

Low has crafted his team since 2006, building it piece-by-piece around a balanced philosophy of pressing and quick passing when in possession. He recently likened the current crop to a child of his. And now, even as Germany have the youngest squad at Euro 2012 - less than 25 years of age on average - this child is coming of age. Not only the attack, but the defence plays beautifully, channeling the great Beckenbauer. And Thon believes they can remain a force in the long term.

"Although they are very young, they already have a lot of experience," he said. "They can be the future and with them, Germany will be hard to beat in the coming years."

Germany's back line solidity has surprised many. After all, the Mannschaft's back five has not had the class and maturity of the current side since the days of Lothar Matthaus and Matthias Sammer. But with the emergence of Badstuber and Hummels in particular, complementing established superstars Manuel Neuer and Philipp Lahm, Germany finally have a defence to be proud of.

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