When the tournament favourites are eliminated before even reaching the final, one question is inevitably asked: why? After coming close in 2006, 2008 and 2010, Germany were finally considered ripe to win their first international trophy in 16 years, but their loss against Italy on Thursday showed that the team still have a long way to go.
It would be harsh to use the Azzurri defeat as an all-encompassing critique of Germany's elimination. They did top the 'Group of Death' with a perfect record and impressed in the quarter-final. With that being said, another near miss begs the question: what can Joachim Low and the team do to finally reach their potential?
It must first be said that Low was unfortunate to have his pre-tournament training camp disrupted. More than half of the squad arrived late, with Bayern Munich and Real Madrid players having just a few days to work with the trainer before their June 9 opener.
|AND YET SO FAR...
Germany's near misses
||Semi-finalists (third place)
||Semi-finalists (third place)
Germany were also forced to cope with injuries to several key players. Bastian Schweinsteiger struggled to play through the pain barrier, while Miroslav Klose and Mario Gotze were short of match practice entering the tournament.
However, Low must take the blame for failing to integrate several players before the tournament. The trainer's preferred back four at the Euros did not play a single match together before June, with the coach utilising 13 different back-line combinations in 16 build-up games.
It also should be asked why Low took so long to integrate Marco Reus and Andre Schurrle, especially considering Lukas Podolski's drop in form since the 2010 World Cup.
The greatest concern remains die Mannschaft's tendency to let their nerves get the best of them when under pressure. Captain Philipp Lahm noted the team's poor concentration after the Greece quarter-final, and the same lack of focus was evident against Italy. Germany are at their best when in control, but succumb to a frenzied panic when their backs are against the wall. The Azzurri's first goal fazed Germany, who suddenly lost their shape, looking helpless and desperate.
It is easy to draw parallels between Germany's failures and those of Bundesliga clubs in Europe who have also suffered from a mental block. That then raises the question whether this is endemic in German football, and a case of discipline more than anything else. It may just be a consequence of having the youngest team at the tournament, but it is naive to ignore it as a valid factor in Germany's elimination.
Time for a tune-up
|CHANGES NEEDED FOR GERMANY
It would be unfair to Low and his team to be unconditionally critical. Mats Hummels and Sami Khedira were fantastic individually, and Reus and the younger players will only improve. However, if die Mannschaft are to reach their full potential, Low must make the necessary adjustments and take the right steps to ensure the team continues to develop and improve.
First and foremost, the Bundestrainer must instill a sense of consistency in the Germany defence. Hummels and Holger Badstuber can form a great partnership, but only if they continue to play together. Moreover, Low needs to decide what to do in the right-back position. Jerome Boateng had a difficult tournament playing out of his favoured central position; Low may be better off using a natural full-back. Borussia Monchengladbach's Tony Jantschke just missed out on the squad for the Euros and could be a serious candidate if he maintains his club form next season.
There is another key problem Germany face: Low's tendency to stick to experienced players at the expense of better alternatives. Perhaps no other player is a better example of this than Podolski, who has barely found the net for his country in the past two years.
Throughout qualifiers, Schurrle, Reus and Gotze remained on the fringes. Podolski's experience seemed of little relevance during the tournament, and Low must now put his loyalties aside so that the team can take the next step.
Furthermore, Low must find an alternative to his current striker situation. Miroslav Klose is in the twilight of his career and Mario Gomez often seems ill-fit for Germany's style of play. Against the Italians, just like in the games with the Greeks and the Portuguese, the Bayern man was often isolated and found it difficult to bring his team-mates into the game, and vice versa. This highlights that Low needs to expand his tactical repertoire and perhaps think outside the box. In Thomas Muller, Schurrle and Reus, Low has versatile players who have all, at one point or another, lead the line. They are options that should not be overlooked.
If Low can fine-tune an already-talented team and find the right balance between attack and defence, there is no reason why Germany cannot enter the 2014 World Cup full of confidence. Saying that this is a young team with potential that just needs time is already a worn-out cliche, but despite another disappointing exit, this tournament does prove that Germany are closer than ever before.