Saturday, July 5, 2014

Heavyweight clash to dispel the national stereotype

When the World Cup comes around, national stereotypes tend to abound in terms of footballing heritage and how the various teams play.

The Dutch will of course play technical possession based football, The African teams will be big and strong, the Italians will regularly win 1-0,  England will be a bit naff (ok, it's a cheap shot), Brazil will dazzle and of course the Germans will win.

How times have changed.

Should Germany fail to win in Brazil, they will go to the next Euros without a major tournament win in twenty - count them - years.

For someone who grew up with them winning tournaments in my lifetime in '74, '80', '90 and '96 as well as seemingly being the losing finalist in most other occasions, it feels a little difficult to compute.

Of course, Europe has gone through a paradigm shift politically since the Berlin wall came down and Germany has been at the centre of all things.

It is hard not to feel that the entire character of the German team has changed to reflect the new reality of modern Europe. 

The Brits in particular - I am one - love a German stereotype, that of a robotic (think Arnie in the Terminator movies) footballing powerhouse, showing no emotion as it steamrolls team after team on its' way to yet another inevitable victory.

What is much more endearing about this current German team is the football that they play but also a sense of vulnerability which I had never sensed in bye gone times. 

The Germans have endured their own period of introspection  and national sorrow as their team has come up short time and time again including on their own patch in 2006. These are very different times for Germany.

There is no doubt that the opening of borders in Europe has helped several teams to change their identities. The likes of Ozil, Khedira and Boateng for instance, whilst I'm sure feeling not one iota less German than any of their compatriots undoubtedly bring new and different gifts to what was an already very strong footballing nation.

Looking at the midfield and seeing the likes of Ozil, Goetze and Kroos in tandem, it can border on footballing porn when they get it right. Add in the likes of the steel of Schweinsteiger and the hugely talented Thomas Mueller and you have a team to both fear and enjoy.

This is the strongest German team since Euro '96 and it is one that is much easier to like and to follow.

And so to Brazil, hosts of the best finals in years even if the goals have dried up a bit in recent matches, that was to be expected.

One of the let downs at this tournament however is well, Brazil themselves. They are of course both eternally blessed as a footballing nation but also cursed by the ghosts of '70 and '82. Even their '02 victory had Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho in tandem, not too shabby.

That a team that has reached the semi finals and has not been knocked out yet can be seen as grossly inferior to a team that failed such as the '82 team shows the impossible standards they have to live up to.

Personally, I like this Brazil side, even if it just for the emotion and drama that they bring. The team however is far from great. A decent keeper, fullbacks who can't defend, a highly combustible centre back paring, unspectacular holding midfielders, a below par Oscar, a now injured talisman in Neymar and of course the hapless Fred up front.

Did anyone mention they're in the semi finals?

Most fans would give their right arms to have a team to support as bad as Brazil supposedly are. They have of course lost their leading light in Neymar and it is a shame for the tournament that he will not be there for the climax, everyone loses from his absence.

Scolari is of course a wily old fox and will use this to foster even further the siege mentality he has been unashamedly building in his squad. They have lost their greatest hope but will gain even more togetherness.

Brazil have looked short of energy up front and it is possible that some tweaks to the line up and possibly the introduction of Willian could cause problems for the Germans. Losing Neymar doesn't have to mean the end.

The other question is what is up with Oscar? He had a poor season after Christmas for Chelsea and his form has continued despite plenty of rest later in the season. He may be carrying an injury, but if it simply loss of form, then it is both long lasting and concerning.

Brazil of course carry the hopes of their nation like no other given their status as hosts and their unrivalled World Cup history. The prospect of Messi lifting the trophy at the Maracana next Sunday must be one that is causing sleepless nights throughout this mighty nation.

Many predicted they would not get past Chile and then said the same about Colombia game and now of course Neymar is gone, they should pack up and head to the beach.

Except of course that Brazil keep winning. 

They have developed a steeliness, not quite the Teutonic stereotype - it is far too full of emotion for that - but they have found a way to win whilst not playing great football or being at their best. The Germans and possibly more so the Italians would be proud.

So, here we have a slightly fragile yet wonderfully technical and gifted Germany team and a big strong Brazil team with tough centre backs scoring all their goals it now seems.

All change?

Tuesday will be a night of high drama, that is for sure but in a world that appears to have gone full circle, no one can predict the outcome - No Nonsense.