Crest-fallen watching Japan celebrating a famous win, Germany’s World Cup 2011 dream was not meant to end like that. Usually so adept at winning and never allowing teams a glimpse of weakness, the Volkswagen Arena in the quarter-final stage seemed more a cauldron of despair with dreams shattered than a bastion of German dominance.
For Germany as hosts, winning the 2011 Women’s World Cup was everything a nation hoped, if not expected, to win. Any other outcome was unthought of, such was the level of expectation.
Preparations were flawless, qualification was automatic due to host status. The previous World Cup in China was won with aplomb, and included a 11-0 demolition of Argentina in the group stage before winning a hard-fought final against the swashbuckling Brazil.
In 2011, France and Canada were roundly beaten on road to the quarter-final. Silvia Neid’s charges looked all but set to canter to a place at the top table of the women’s game. What they did not bank on was the persistence of Japan who were technically astute in their planning, pressing and not allowing their hosts to settle.
For Germany it was almost as if there was a synchronised case of nerves. Japan were thrilling, scintillating and organised; never has functional football looked so good. They executed Norio Sasaki’s game plan to perfection, giving Germany no time on the ball, pressing and attacking as one. It sounds so very simple but is hard to actually pull off.
They put a seed of doubt into the minds of a strangely subdued and unbalanced German side with their desire to give the people of tsunami stricken Japan something to reinvigorate their beligred nation. This will to win was greater and the need for a positive result pronounced. No one but no one could say Japan did not deserve the ultimate accolade, though Germany were left to rue missed chances.
Four years on, Germany head to Canada on the back of an impressive qualification campaign, netting 62 goals and only conceding four. The national game has been flushed on success with FFC Frankfurt’s Champions League win against Paris Saint-Germain. With Wolfsburg falling just short in the semi final, no one can doubt the qualities German women’s football has.
Some say Germany have acquired a level of arrogance on the pitch. When you have as many trophies adorning DFB headquarters in Frankfurt I guess the criticism is harder to level, it’s part why the World Cup is Germany’s to lose as the greatest teams in football are adept at the art of winning. It almost becomes second nature. For Silvia Neid’s team, it is the case of consistent tournament success that reduces the chances of failure.
Neid’s preparation has been meticulous, rom tactical sessions, physical training and team building exercises. A blue-print for success has been forged, with Neid lways ensuring young talent is blooded very early on. Everyone is part of the team ethic, and it’s that togetherness in thought and deed that breeds success. In turn, it also creates the conditions for players, coaches and back-room staff to thrive.
Nothing is being left to chance with German general manager Doris Fitschen spelling out the challenges of covering thousands of miles of Canadian soil. She outlined the approach being taken on Dfb.de:
The size of Canada is challenging! The tournament’s motto “From coast to coast” has created a lot of work – after all, we have to work out which mode of transport is best to cover the huge distance between matches and the five time zones. It’s hard to have a set location – we had to find hotels in each city and react to what the others sides have done.
It’s those fine margins that can make all the difference deep into a tournament. Currently at their training camp in Baden, nestled in the picturesque Aargau canton, Neid’s task is clear. They are running through drills, even taking time to go on rain-soaked hikes, as well as embracing moments of solace and reflection before the cut and thrust of tournament football begins.
The DFB threw in a friendly against World Cup bound Switzerland into the already packed schedule. They won 3-1, giving Germany the perfect send off and for Swiss manager Martina Voss-Tecklenburg food for thought.
Winning is never easy and Japan, France, USA and Brazil will pose significant threats. However, when you have such a strong team filled with world-class players, you could forgive Neid and the DFB for being privately confident.
The organisational qualities Neid instils into all her players, the work ethic and the drive for excellence sets them apart and is evident from the defensive core which includes Annike Krahn, Babett Peter and Jennifer Cramer through to the attacking intent shown by prolific Célia Šašić.
They have a dynamic approach with wingers pushing forward and utilise the immensely talented and constant goal threat Dzsenifer Marozsán who always brings something to the table. It’s not hard to see the challenge that faces their rivals.
Already this year Germany have hammered home just how difficult they are to beat. Brazil were left licking their wounds after a 4-0 friendly loss in April off the back of a 3-1 loss at the Algarve Cup in March. Sweden, however, did pose more significant questions in Portugal, keeping the Germans honest with a 4-2 win and later narrowly losing 2-1 in the latter stages. The French have also beaten them in the last few months.
The maturity of the side is crucial, along with the organisational qualities and experience that Melanie Behringer, Simone Laudehr, Lena Goeßling and Alexandra Popp bring, all of whom have enormous tactical awareness and attacking intent. Giving the back four a degree of protection, Goeßling and Melanie Leupolz, certainly know how to marshall games and are unflustered in their approach. With the same players chipping in with vital goals, it a recipe for success.
Ever dependable Behringer, who will most likely to be utilised from the bench, brings a sense of calm assurance and an ability to read a game. Laudehr’s link play, with more attack minded midfielders including Popp and the consistent goal threat of Anja Mittag, create a formidable spine essential for unlocking teams, creating opportunities and controlling games. There are very few weak links.
The core elements of the game are critical to success and the Germany apply them with stereotypical efficiency; it’s why they are so difficult to play against, not infallible but certainly presenting a mountain to climb.
Psychologically, Neid’s charges have a clear edge, stemming from an adeptness and ability to find weakness and exploit it. On sheer reputation alone, Germany demand respect. Too many teams, as England found at their cost, give Germany too much respect. They will inevitably, with concise application, capitalise on this respect and it creates a seed of doubt in opposition minds, preventing teams from applying their own game plans.
Neid’s ruthlessness in her game plan is remarkable, always looking for an edge. In reducing the size of her World Cup team from 26 to 23, she jettisoned the impressive Anna Blässe from her plans. Reputations don’t matter, it’s all about ensuring the biggest chance of success. Consistency is also fundamental. Neid rarely tinkers with her team, integrating young talent early on ensures familiarity, as does always selecting roughly the same players. It does, however, leave the composition of her teams easy to predict come match-day.
The German team is positively bursting at the seams with talent. For some that would not be enough to warrant tournament success but Germany are an exception to the rule. They are a world-class side, coherent in design and with a mentality to win. It would really be a perfect send-off to Neid, vacating the role next year to take up a scouting role. It’s Germany’s World Cup to lose, but it is equally for others to gain.