There were over 70,000 spectators on hand in the German capital city of Berlin to watch their national soccer team continue their almost unopposed march through the World Cup qualifiers. After 45 minutes of play, one would have assumed business as usual and that “die Mannschaft” would be securing an easy three points being up 3:0 in their home country. Miroslav Klose had scored twice already in the match, Per Mertesacker added before the half, and Mesut Özil would strengthen the German lead further in the second half. 30 minutes left to play + four-goal lead = game over. Right?
Apparently nobody at the office gave Zlatan Ibrahimovic and his Swedish teammates the memo. Ibrahimovic would score first for the Scandanavian side, heading a wonderful ball in the 62nd minute past German keeper Manuel Neuer. The defense on the play looked lackluster at best, and it would only get worse for the home side. Mikeal Lustig would score just two minutes later (64th minute) on a clear goal-keeping error from Neuer. Still, with a two-goal lead and 25 minutes left in regulation, there was no doubt the German skipper Joachim Löw would start screaming and get his team back on track. Right?
Remember that memo that didn’t arrive? Well it must have really gotten lost somewhere.
Just over 10 minutes later the Swedes were able to capitalize again on soft defense from the German side. A slotted pass from the end line came through and Johan Elmander was able to beat Holger Badstuber to bring the IKEA nation to their feet and close within one goal of Germany. At this point, it was quite clear what was happening, and nothing the German side could do would change the inevitable. With three minutes into extra time, the Swedes were able to tie the match and earn a much-desrerved point in the table with a strike from Rasmus Elm. The game would end 4:4, and although many Germans were pointing out that Mertesacker had been fouled on the play, they had no one to point to but themselves.
I will be the first to say that Germans are overcritical of well, pretty much everything in their lives. Whether it is the political system, transportation, bureaucracy, or the German national soccer team, most everyone is an expert in pointing out all the flaws in these groups / systems. One resounding comment in recent history is the inability of the German team to simply buckle down and pull out the win when needed. Whether it be a physical or psychological element, it needs to be improved.
Currently the Germans can put a team on the field that can beat anybody they face. They have had a miraculous midfield for the past 2 World Cups / Euro Cups and somehow are only adding more talent (Marco Reus, anyone?). Up front the Klose / Gomez controversy still continues and in the back questions about the ability for the defense to perform when called upon have risen over the past Euro Cup in Poland / Ukraine. However, what the team truly lacks is a killer instinct. That being: When they are ahead they undoubtedly keep their lead. When they are tied they find that goal to push them past. When they are behind they put the ball in the net and take the game over. Confidence no matter what the circumstance.
The talent is there. The ability is there. This is not just potential, it is breathing, living talent.
After a disastrous game such as this against an arguably weaker side, the Germans need to do a reevaluation about what it means to go out on a pitch and command the field for not just 60, but 90+ minutes. Give Sweden their credit, as they showed they can do more than make irresistible meatballs and construct cheap, reliable furniture. But don’t think for an instant that a more mentally tough Germany was not capable of turning this game into an 7:0 rout.
Time will tell. Your move, Germany.