After a much improved performance and convincing win against their Netherlands, Germany can go into their last group stage match full of confidence knowing that they are slowly but surely rounding into form and reaching their full potential.
Contrary to their dulled performance against Portugal, Germany performed against Netherlands with the verve and panache that was initially expected of them. The fluency and precision that was missing in their first game was on full display as were their trademark lightning quick counter-attacks and clever link-up. After weathering an early storm of Dutch attacks, Germany gradually took control of the game and outplayed their rivals in every facet of the game in the sweltering Kharkiv heat.
The players were more in tune with each other and that is reflected in the statistics. Their overall pass completion percentage improved from the Portugal game and they gave the ball away less. More striking was the fact that they attempted as many passes in the final third as the Netherlands and created more clear goal-scoring chances than they had in the Portugal game despite having less possession over 90 minutes.
Low said a trademark of their style was the fun and exhilaration with which they attack 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 in their game.
They may not have kept the clean sheet they 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 per cent of all duels in fact, a statistic attributed largely to the great performance of the backline.
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 stabilise the Germany defence adding balance to their play. His technique and ability as well as his desire to get forward meant Boateng and Lahm were able to afford to play more conservative 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 line-up 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 criticised for despite their win in the opening game. Gomez was still accused of lacking the mobility and skill to be more than just a poacher so including him again over Klose, who starred in their 3-0 win over the Netherlands last November, could have backfired.
Luckily for Low and the team, Gomez had arguably his best performance in a Germany shirt. The Bayern Munich striker had less touches on the ball than any other player who started and just three chances to score yet two of those decided the game. More than that, he took his first with the kind of skill that would have made most Klose advocates proud and his movement to create and then finish the second was more in tune with the great playmakers of the game than a traditional target man.
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 defence-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 underperform in as well but Germany showed their pedigree against the Netherlands and are looking to get even better as the tournament progresses.