After a much improved performance and a convincing win against the Netherlands, Germany can go into its last group stage match full of confidence knowing that the team are slowly but surely rounding into form and reaching its full potential.
Contrary to the dulled performance against Portugal, Germany performed against Netherlands with the verve and panache that was initially expected of it. The fluency and precision that was missing in the first game was on full display as were their trademark lightning quick counterattacks and clever link up. After weathering an early storm of Dutch attacks, Germany gradually took control of the game and outplayed its rival in every facet of the game in the sweltering Kharkiv heat.
Low said a trademark of Germany's style was the fun and exhilaration with which it attacks and that was evident for the first time this tournament against the Netherlands. Each player’s confidence grew as the game progressed and it showed.
Germany may not have kept the clean sheet it desired ahead of the match but conceding just one goal against the most prolific attacking side in qualifying has to go down as a satisfying defensive performance. Hummels and Badstuber did well to anticipate and intercept most Dutch attacks and limited them to just two shots on goal in each half. The former also had the highest number of interceptions in the game. While Bert van Marwijk’s side dominated possession, Germany won in the duels department, and quite convincingly so. Nearly 60 percent of all duels in fact, a statistic attributed largely to the great performance of the back line.
Considering Germany’s back four did not play a single game together in the 16 games leading up to the tournament they have done surprisingly well and imbued the team with the defensive consistency and stability every tournament-winning side needs.
Hummels’ presence has gone a long way to stabilize the Germany defense, adding balance to the team's play. His technique and ability as well as his desire to get forward meant Boateng and Lahm were able to afford to play more restrained roles and vice versa.
Before the match Low flirted with the idea of giving Klose a start, admitting that he does not adhere to the “never change a winning team” theory, but relented and trusted in the same lineup again - among those the highly controversial Mario Gomez. Starting Gomez ahead of the vastly more experienced Miroslav Klose was a big risk and one that Low was criticized for despite the win in the opening game. Gomez was still accused of lacking the mobility and skill to be more than just a poacher. Including him again over Klose, who starred in the 3-0 win over the Netherlands last November, could have backfired.
Another player whose improved form is coming at the right time is Bastian Schweinsteiger. The talismanic central midfielder spent most of Germany’s training camp recuperating from a calf injury and had a disappointing showing against Portugal by his high standards. But as Low admitted after the game, his influence at this tournament is growing by the minute. Against the Netherlands, Schweinsteiger dictated and controlled the tempo of the game and set up both goals with excellent forward runs and defense-splitting passes.
Germany’s performance in this tournament will very much come down to how these two key players perform and if the Netherlands performance is anything to go by they are both rounding into form at the perfect time.
As the old adage goes, it is not how you start but how you finish, and that applies perhaps most appropriately to major international tournaments more than anything. Of course, it helps when you win the matches you under perform in as well, but Germany showed its pedigree against the Netherlands and is looking to get even better as the tournament progresses
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