Expect more than mere German efficiency at the Euros

On the night England limped past another marker on their way to a summer in Poland and Ukraine next year, making hugely troublesome the negotiation of a Wales side ranking 113 places below them in the FIFA hierarchy, two of the teams scheduled to provide England with a preparative test after a now seemingly inevitable assurance of qualification, strolled onto Eastern Europe with minimal fuss. The Netherlands have played eight won eight at the top of group E after the latest round of games, which began with an eleven goal mauling of San Marino last week and concluded with a 2-0 win in Finland, whilst holders Spain continued their own 100% record in group I by thrashing Liechtenstein 6-0, a win that certifies their participation in the finals with two matches remaining.  

England need a solitary point in Podgorica next month in order to join them, qualification a mere formality when you consider the minor miracle Montenegro require to subject England to a play-off place, but this was a subdued positive on a night that punctured any hope that Fabio Capello had finally forged an England team capable of fluidity and vibrancy that threatened to shine through in Sofia last Friday; they had reverted to type and this was a sluggish, jittery account for opposition that are inferior to the extent they sit bottom of group G with just one win, and they have not qualified for a major tournament in 35 years.

One may be forgiven for thinking that on this evidence, England will struggle in the company of the European football powerhouses next summer and concern may come from the irrepressible form of the usual suspects. It is the other nation along with Spain and Holland that still hold a perfect record in qualifying, Germany that are providing the most ominous signals. Sitting at the summit of group A having won eight from eight played, their latest result being a 6-2 drubbing of Austria in Gelsenkirchen last Friday, this a German side that look something more than the simply efficient unit they are reputed as, it is the fabrication of a well-oiled inclination to the notion of style over substance. Built on inevitable German pragmatism, they have reduced their group to something of an assertive procession, scoring 28 goals and conceding 5 and winning all four home games at an aggregate of 19 goals to 2, a stark contrast to England, who picked up their first win at their own Wembley home in over a year with the nervy win over Wales.

Germany will roll into Poland and the Ukraine in their compulsory demeanour of being experts of the major tournament excursion; they have never failed to place outside of the last eight in the history of the World Cup and have finished 2nd, 3rd and 3rd in the last three, the runner up spot of Korea and Japan 2002 coming after the phenomenon of the 5-1 thrashing by England in Munich, whilst their conquerors failed to make it past the quarter finals in Asia. A better summary cannot be found of the differential in mentality between nations; seemingly in crisis following that September night, Germany pulled together and reached the final of the World Cup a year later when a lesser nation would have crumbled. In South Africa, they went into the finals an outside bet but accounted stunningly for the scalps of England and Argentina with expansive, attacking football before eventually succumbing to Spain in the semi-finals. They finished the tournament the highest scorers with 16 goals in an indication this was a different German animal, one that could mix adventure and flair together with their own unique brand of tournament efficiency.

It was the Spanish juggernaut that also stopped them at Euro 2008, beating them 1-0 in the final and had this extraordinary Spanish side not defied logic to inhabit a single generation, Germany’s own batch of impressive youth would have been probable European and World Champions, such has been the extent of improvement to the quality of youth production in the country since its overhaul in 2002. Following a dreadful campaign at Euro 2000, they implemented a ruling that all 36 sides in the Bundesliga’s two divisions were under obligation to operate regulated academies and these created all twenty three members of the squad that went to South Africa with an average age of 24.7. Such encouragement of youth lead to an increase of native league players from 56% in 2004 to 62% in 2010, a huge difference to the Premier League which housed their own 60/40 split in favour of foreign players. A huge difference in attitude between the two nations to youth development was abundant at the time of the 2010 World Cup and it was this disparity that was made so alarmingly apparent by the 4-1 thrashing of England in Bloemfontein, if not by the 4-0 demolition at the under 21 European Championships a year previous.

On Tuesday night, Germany played Poland in a friendly with only one member of the starting eleven above the age of 30, the 33 year old Miroslav Klose providing experience in attack, in front of Mario Gotze, Andre Schurrle and Toni Kroos, who are 19, 20 and 21 years of age respectively. Thomas Muller, one of the brightest lights in South Africa emerged from the bench still only 21, along with Marcel Schmelzer who is 22. Absent from this squad were 22 year olds Mesut Ozil, who took place alongside the World’s best after his campaign in South Africa and his heir at Werder Bremen, Marko Marin, who has replaced Ozil since his move to Real Madrid. Also missing was 24 year old Sami Khedira, now also at Real Madrid having followed Ozil after a similarly impressive summer in 2010. Such focus on youth has unearthed a generation of unerring quality that provides the basis for their latest assault on tournament football.

Domestic champions Borrusia Dortmund, who have provided the national team with Gotze and Schmelzer along with Mats Hummels and Sven Bender are the paradigm of the German enthusiasm for emerging talent, having become the youngest ever champions of the Bundesliga last year with an average age of 24.3. Nuri Sahin, Real Madrid’s summer purchase of £10 million also came off the Dortmund conveyor belt, the German born midfielder choosing to play for Turkey instead, but an exciting instalment in the Dortmund production line and another testament to the work of the DFB nonetheless.

After such a dominant qualifying campaign, the stage is now set for this batch of youngsters to rule European football on a senior level after winning the competition at under 17, under 19 and under 21 levels spanning over two years in 2008 and 2009 and they the German FA prepares to see the fruits of the labour after installing £455 million on the nurturing of talent over the past decade. England have tried to compete with the production of the likes of Chris Smalling, Theo Walcott, Gary Cahill and Joe Hart in recent years but continue to get the transition from terrific club form into the international domain so frustratingly wrong. Germany, with their mind-set of efficiency and solidity are unlikely to do the same and Europe will have to take notice in time for summer once again. 

Adam Gray @MonkeyLunch21

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