Germany - The New Nearly Men

Clark Whitney contends that Germany's defeat to Spain in the Euro 2008 final in Vienna was oddly inevitable, given their progress over the last decade...
Last night’s performance fittingly capped off a decade of “close, but no cigar” German football: with their loss in the Euro finals, the Germans missed their last chance of winning a major competition in the 2000s, their first failure to win such a major tournament in a decade since the 1960s.  Many saw Euro 2008 as a great opportunity for Germany to reclaim their position of dominance in Europe, but a less than convincing road to the final coupled with their meeting an in-form and extremely gifted Spanish side left little room for surprise with the result of tonight’s match.

From the start, it was clear that the Germans were collected and ready to put forth a classic display of German football, using discipline, efficiency and determination to overcome their opponents.  During the first 12 minutes or so, Germany had complete control of the match—a surprise considering their recent performance against Turkey—but they soon faltered.  For the most part, the Germans were simply unable to string together a series of passes, and failed to keep the resolve they had shown in the opening minutes.  After Fernando Torres beat right back Philipp Lahm to score the only goal of the match, Germany struggled to find an answer and were effectively shut down in the midfield. 

To their credit, Spain played well defensively, and their command of the midfield was impeccable, especially after they took the lead.  However, it was really irrelevant that Germany’s offense struggled: after all, it has historically been a talent of theirs to score sudden goals late in important matches.  But it wasn’t to be.  Instead of seeing a resolute German team like the one that score go-ahead goals twice in the last 15 minutes against Turkey, we saw a side that simply couldn’t figure out how to score the all-important equalizer.  As time ticked away, the Germans looked increasingly desperate: they rarely had possession during the final 10 minutes—a time during which many passionate and brilliant performances were made throughout Euro 2008—and as a result, looked anxious when they did have the ball.  In the end, the dominant Spanish show was simply too much for a discouraged Germany to counter.

Perhaps German fans were a bit overeager at the outset, their team having been picked as pre-tournament favorites to win the Euro.  Perhaps they thought a new golden age of football had dawned on their nation, and that a new set of legends were being made before their very eyes.  In case there was any doubt, however, tonight’s performance confirmed that Miroslav Klose is not Gerd Müller, Jens Lehmann is not Sepp Maier, Torsten Frings is not Lothar Matthäus, and Michael Ballack is not Fritz Walter: in their experiences, none of the current German stars have been able to deliver performances on par with those that predecessors used to win three European Championships and three World Cups. 

Nonetheless, the current squad is to be commended for their great success at Euro 2008: one disappointing performance cannot erase a month’s worth of passionate and successful play.  Looking forward to 2010, there is a wealth of young talent amongst the Germans, inclusive of Rene Adler, Toni Kroos, Marko Marin and Manuel Fischer.  Perhaps these young talents will soon usher in a new golden era of German football…

Clark Whitney