DOHA, Qatar — “All the things is at stake in opposition to Spain,” Germany coach Hansi Flick stated. Lose at Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday, and his workforce will likely be out earlier than they’ve even reached the third sport. That’s catastrophic sufficient, and tends to deliver penalties, however it won’t solely be about their place on the World Cup; it could be much more profound. There’s something in regards to the conferences between these sides that shapes them. Defeat by the hands of the Seleccion helped redefine Die Nationalmannschaft greater than a decade in the past; one other one right here in Qatar and that id may face an inquisition.
“I was on the pitch in the final of Euro 2008 and I just couldn’t get near the ball,” Thomas Hitzlsperger remembers. The previous midfielder can snicker now; then, it was arduous sufficient even to breathe. “In addition to them being superior in tactics, I was also very slow, so not only did I not anticipate the passes, but even if I had, I was never going to get there,” he stated. “You very quickly realise that they had found a way to totally outplay us, to have overloads everywhere. We understood that this team was on its way to being the best team in the world, but on the pitch it’s tough, and you think: ‘Pfff, what are we going to do?'”
Observe them, because it turned out.
The shift had already begun with Jurgen Klinsmann across the 2006 World Cup, however 2008 accelerated the whole lot. Hitzlsperger remembers Joachim Low — who had been Klinsmann’s assistant earlier than changing into head coach — being in “love” with Spanish soccer. Barcelona and the nationwide workforce have been aware fashions to comply with, the inspiration for a cultural shift.
“My last game was in 2010; they got rid of me just in time. They had to make sure I left for them to get better,” Hitzlsperger stated jokingly. “Spain was always the team they looked up to. Low used to say constantly: Keep the ball on the floor, keep the ball on the floor. If you go long, it is harder to control, you lose time. German football had focused on what you do without the ball; now it came to think about what you do with it. Low’s [tactical] background was 1990s Italy, but everything changed.
“It wasn’t nearly successful tournaments; the best way we checked out growing younger expertise modified. It was that we went into tournaments and it was all based mostly on mentality. We are going to win as a result of we’re Germany. We wanted to play. Low loves Spanish soccer, retaining possession, and so they gained the 2014 World Cup.” A new identity was forming.
In Doha on Friday, Spain coach Luis Enrique said: “Germany are the workforce most like Spain.”
Maybe it’s not quite that Spider-Man meme, the two identical superheroes pointing at each other, but it is similar. “Germany are a workforce that assaults, that desires to be within the opposition’s half, that desires to regulate the sport, dominate it. In that sense, they’re the workforce most like us. They’ve the identical targets,” Enrique said. When those words were put to Flick, the German coach replied: “I can verify this.”
“Should you have a look at the system, with each groups it is one-on-one in each place,” he added. “Spain have at all times performed 4-3-3, like Barcelona, and no matter who their opponents are, they’ve their clear, computerized strikes.”
Spain’s Dani Olmo, who performs his membership soccer there with RB Leipzig, agrees: “Germany additionally wish to dominate. They need the ball. In that sense, they’re like us. And Flick is a coach who desires the ball. You noticed that at Bayern Munich and quite a lot of the nationwide workforce gamers are from Bayern. They know what they wish to do and so they know us very properly.”
Sometimes, though, the fear is that if you try to be something else, somebody else, you will always fall short. Germany were a team that always terrified Spain, based more on character than quality, the idea that this was a team that always competed — even if you didn’t always know how. The debates now are partly existential as they stand on the edge. What are they? Who are they? Is there something of themselves missing? Something else was shifting; a focus on technical midfielders changed the paradigm and the production line; centre-forwards were not rolling off it anymore. Spain exposed them with a 6-0 win in Seville a year ago; now they could expose them to something far worse.
On some levels, this should not be seen as a crisis. Germany’s 2-1 loss to Japan in their first match in Qatar is only one defeat and, for 60 minutes or more, Germany dominated. But then they started to come undone, and the defeat leaves them hanging. Nor did they react as they needed to when the Japanese came for them. Midfielder Ilkay Gundogan complained that there were players who did not want the ball, who hid.
“It can be crucial that you’ve got the braveness to supply your self for the ball,” Flick said — it was exactly the kind of line you hear Luis Enrique say. That conviction, that determination to play, to avoid the urge to be more direct, even to get rid, is fundamental. It is also incredibly hard when you’re under pressure, and Germany could not be under any greater pressure.
“After all they’re beneath strain as a result of they should win, however we all know Germany are the most effective nationwide groups on this planet,” Olmo said. “You can’t put them down after one sport. Will probably be a closing for them as a result of they should win to be within the subsequent spherical. We have to deal with our journey, and if we win we’ll undergo.”
For Spain, that journey is clear. For Germany, on the brink, the doubts are naturally deeper. “We’re in a s—ting scenario,” Julian Brandt stated. Now, they have to get out of it. Standing earlier than them, the workforce that confirmed them a manner out earlier than, their inspiration poised to play the function of executioner.