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Lahm symbolic of Germany's rise

By Greg Stobart in Rio de Janeiro

When Germany reached the semi-final of the World Cup in 2006, the country celebrated the likes of Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger as success stories for the restructure of the youth system following a disastrous Euro 2000.

Eight years after hosting the tournament, the World Cup final against Argentina on Sunday represents the finish line for the overhaul of Germany’s academy system, implemented from 2002, requiring all 36 clubs in the two Bundesliga divisions to operate centrally regulated academies.

The success of the rethink in philosophy was highlighted by the 7-1 destruction of hosts Brazil in Tuesday’s semi-final in Belo Horizonte.

But this Germany team is also epitomised by the performances of Lahm.

The Bayern Munich man, now 30, is one of the veterans of Joachim Low’s side and will lift the trophy as captain if his team triumph over Lionel Messi and Co. at the Maracana.

Leading the way | Lahm is symbollic of Germany's rise since their disastrous Euro 2000 campaign

Lahm has played every minute of Germany’s march to Rio and has completed more passes in the competition than any other player – 529 at a completion rate of 87 per cent.

If Germany succeed in winning the tournament, their success may well be traced to Low’s decision before the quarter-final against France to revert Lahm back to his most familiar right-back position.

Lahm had played the first four matches of the World Cup in central midfield – and he performed a solid job, as ever – but the team have struck a balance since he has been moved back, allowing a midfield trio of Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira.

In the quarter-final win over France and then the last four victory over Brazil, the Germans have looked cohesive, organised, difficult to break down and ruthless in the final third.

In some respects, the change represented a concession from Low, who had previously responded angrily to media pressure about his use of Lahm in a central midfield role.
Frequently described by his Bayern coach Pep Guardiola as one of the most intelligent players he has ever worked with, Lahm has become used to playing in the position over the last season.

His versatility and flexibility have come to embody the Germany team - fluid, full of movement, comfortable in any area of the pitch, technically flawless.

Lahm is a consistent eight out of 10 performer, the most reliable cog in a machine that, on the surface, appears to have no obvious weakness.

And he will play the final as a right-back, the position in which he is probably the best in the world.

One brilliant challenge in the penalty box against Brazil summed up his defensive qualities in anticipating danger, reading the game and executing his skills.

When asked last December about what Germany needed to do to have a successful World Cup, Lahm replied: “For me, the World Cup would be successful if we develop a good team spirit, if we bring our footballing class to the pitch, if we intelligently conduct ourselves tactically.

And especially, if we play football with a lot of passion, a lot of enthusiasm, and a lot of heart.”

They have undoubtedly done that in Brazil – and Lahm himself has led by example.