Germany and full-backs – a match made in heaven

With the U-21 European Championship and FIFA Confederations Cup victory, German football seems to be on a roll, and the fact that those teams could have been much stronger has petrified their opponents.

The topic of Germany’s incredible depth also came up, with people discussing the astonishing quality of goalkeepers, centre backs and midfielders they have.

One set of players that went overlooked were the full-backs. And this ignorance seems surprising considering that German full-backs dominated both the U-21 Euros as well as Confederations Cup 2017.

Starting with the juniors first, no one played a more important role in the finals against Spain than Yannick Gerhardt and Jeremy Toljan.

Playing more like a wing-back, Toljan gave a performance that would make Dani Alves proud. He made blistering runs down the right-flank, exploiting the opposition defence with his deceptive speed and gifted body balance.

Toljan justified the interest showed in him by Antonio Conte when he dodged past two Spanish defenders to assist the winning goal.

While Toljan was inclined more towards attack, Gerhardt kept his act balanced. Adapting his game according to the situation, he gave a very mature performance for someone of his age.

Gerhart combined with Meyer at the left-flank to support the attack in the first half when Germany was pressing high. He fulfilled his defensive duties in the second half, keeping Saul Niguez and Marco Asensio at bay successfully.

For the ones who don’t know, here’s a little secret – the man who scored the winning goal against Spain in the finals, Mitchell Weiser too is predominantly a right-back.

Shifting the attention to FIFA Confederations Cup, fullbacks Jonas Hector and Joshua Kimmich were the only first team members in the squad that won the tournament in Russia.

If Euro 2016 was the testing ground for them, the Confederations Cup saw them cement their spots as the undisputed starters.

As Germany’s coach Joachim Loew experimented with various formations keeping World Cup 2018 in hindsight, Kimmich and Hector would switch between defence and attack as per team’s requirement.

Plying his trade on the right side of the pitch, Kimmich again proved why Carlos Ancelotti should give him more playing time. The prodigious youngster showed maturity beyond his years and lead by example.

Kimmich was the only German player to play every single minute of the tournament, effortlessly working as a centre back, fullback, wing-back or midfielder.

While keeping the defence intact, he made valuable contributions to the attack with delightful crosses, two of which found their way into the net.

Kimmich’s counterpart on the left flank, Jonas Hector was a joy to watch in his new attacking role. He would exploit the space created by Julian Draxler’s arbitrary movement to serve inch-perfect balls into the box.

The Cologne man was part of one of the best team goals of the tournament, assisting Lars Stindl against Chile during group stages.

Apart from Kimmich and Hector, even substitutes Marvin Plattenhardt and Benjamin Henrichs were impressive during the limited amount of time they got on the pitch.

Henrichs managed to rake up two assists with one of them coming in the semifinals against Mexico.

Now the question is, should the strength Germany possess in this department come as a surprise? The fact that Brazil and Italy have been home to some of the most celebrated full-backs of all time is widely known.

But a glance at the history of Die Mannschaft proves that Germany can stand toe-to-toe with the Selecao and the Azzurri in this regard.

With Germany being one of the most successful footballing nation at European as well as world level, we could draw a parallel timeline of notable German fullbacks that begins with their first major international success in 1954.

In 1954 FIFA World Cup, the full-back pairing of Josef Posipal and Werner Kohlmeyer proved instrumental in the success of Die Mannschaft, as they kept opposition wingers at bay.

In the finals, they made crucial goal line clearances and quite successfully man-marked Toth and Kocsis, two of Hungary’s deadliest attackers.

Possibly the first world-renowned German full back was Karl-Heinz Schillinger. The former A.C. Milan legend was one of the best left-back of his era, rivalled only by Nilton Santos and Giacinto Facchetti.

Nicknamed the ‘Volkswagen’, he helped West Germany reach the finals of the FIFA World Cup 1966, pairing alongside legendary right-back Horst-Dieter Hottges.

Euro 1972 witnessed the rise of a young left-back, Paul Breitner who would go on to create history.

A controversial figure throughout his career, Breitner would go on to form arguably the greatest full back pair since Djalma Santos and Nilton Santos, with Berti Vogts.

Alongside Franz Beckenbauer, they formed an impenetrable defence that would help West Germany win their second FIFA World Cup in 1974.

Both the full-backs played a key role in the finals as the 23-year-old Breitner scored a crucial penalty and Vogts subdued the Dutch talisman Johan Cruyff.

Since then, great names followed like Manfred Kaltz, Hans-Peter Briegel and Thomas Berthold but none as lethal as left-back Andre Brehme.

A name synonymous with amazing free kicks and crosses, Brehme scored the winning penalty in FIFA World Cup 1990 finals, shattering Maradona’s dream of a second consecutive World Cup victory.

The last prominent full-back to play for Germany was Philipp Lahm.

Arguably the greatest fullback of the 21st century, Lahm’s stamina, intelligence and technical prowess gave him the ability to support the attack without compromising an inch with the team’s defence.

Under Lahm’s captaincy, unified Germany won its first FIFA World Cup in 2014.

A huge gap was created in the side since Lahm retired in 2014. Fortunately for Germany, Joachim Loew is spoilt for choices.

While Kimmich seems the favourite as of now, there is still one year to go before Russia hosts the World Cup.

Names like Henrich, Rudiger and even Toljan will give him a run for his money.

Same is the case with Jonas Hector, who has to fight for his spot not only against more experienced players like Benedikt Howedes and Marcel Schmelzer but also with upcoming talents like Plattenhardt and Gerhart

The possibilities are endless regarding who will make it to the side. But one thing that won’t change is Deutschland’s tryst with great full-backs.

The Author

Sameer Shekhawat

An engineering student residing in New Delhi, I support FC Bayern Munich and Die Mannschaft. Also contribute football and pro-wrestling content for Sportskeeda.com

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