Jul 13, 2014

Germany 2014 = Spain 2008

In 2008, Spain triumphed at the European championships with a core of players, nearly all of them from domestic clubs, who were rounding into their prime. Spain were widely viewed as the best team at Euro 2008 and won the tournament with a clean slate, sweeping their three group stage matches before advancing through the elimination round with minimal difficulty. It was the start of a golden era in Spanish soccer, as la roja went on to win the World Cup in 2010 and another euro championship, in 2012, with the same core of players.

Now in 2014, Germany have triumphed at the World Cup, winning with a core of players, nearly all of them from domestic clubs, who are rounding into their prime. Few would argue that Germany were not the best team at this tournament. Yes, Argentina certainly had their chances tonight (then again, so did Germany) but in the end it was Joachim Loew's side, specifically one Mario Goetze, who capitalized on theirs. In the end the better team triumphed by a 1-0 margin, much like it did in Vienna six years ago.

Now, like then, we can expect the winning national team to dominate competition for at least the next two major tournaments. Except, this German team may even be better than Spain was in 2008, as these German players are more battle-tested, despite their relative youth. The core of the team, including its coach, saw semifinal action in 2010 and 2012, and a few (Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Klose) even figured in the 2008 squad (bad example on Klose, as he has figured in every German national side since what, 1966?). Spain, by contrast, kind of came out of nowhere in 2008. At the time the story was still about how Spain produced terrific club sides but couldn't translate this to success on the national team level (sound familiar, England fans? Different situation though, as England still doesn't have any future as a national team. Sorry folks). Spain didn't make it past the round of 16 at the 2006 World Cup and didn't even make it out of the group stage at the euro 2004 tournament. This after generations of futility. We shouldn't have to remind you about German "muscle memory" when it comes to success in international soccer tournaments.

Looking at the roster of German players you have a roster with few weaknesses, the main spine of which will be in place for at least the next World Cup cycle. On defense, only the 30-year old Lahm will need to be replaced: Manuel Neuer is 28, Benedikt Hoewedes 26 and Matt Hummels 25. Bastian Schweinsteiger, aged 29, is the only midfielder one can expect to be cycled out by 2018. Don't forget 25-year old Marco Reus, arguably one of the most talented members of this generation of German players, missed the entire tournament with an injury. Then you've got guys like Julian Draxler (not yet 21), Matthias Ginter (20) and Erik Durm (22), who made the team for Brazil but didn't play much or at all. Among forwards, Miroslav Klose will likely not play much longer for the national team beyond perhaps a well-deserved sendoff game, but if anybody can fill his shoes it is Goetze, whose class was on full display in the winning goal. Andre Schuerrle is top-notch as well, as Chelsea fans can attest. And of course don't forget that Thomas Mueller, who turns 25 in September, led German goalscorers in Brazil and has a legitimate shot at breaking Klose's record of 16 World Cup goals if he stays healthy. Just in case the Germans needed additional help, there are forwards like Kevin Volland, who turns 22 this year and scored 11 goals for Hoffenheim last season, or Philipp Hofmann, a 21-year old in the employ of FC Kaiserslautern who stands 6'5 and scored 13 goals in 26 appearances for German youth national teams, according to his Wikipedia page. While we're on the topic of budding German stars, it bears noting that Liverpool just signed 20-year old Emre Can, a midfield product of Bayern Munich's youth sides who started for Bayer Leverkusen last season. And we'd be remiss not to mention Leon Goretzka, the 19-year old Schalke midfielder, who has already been capped at the senior level and is said to model his game after Toni Kroos.

Of course a lot can still go wrong to derail the German machine on its path to generational dominance. The last time Germany won a World Cup, in 1990, no less a figure than Franz Beckenbauer predicted they would be unbeatable for a decade. We all know how that turned out (Spoiler alert! Germany were hardly unbeatable and in fact succumbed in the quarterfinals at the next two World Cups, though they did win the Euro 96). Still, it would take a brave man to bet against Germany, at the very least in the euro 2016 tournament in France. The only European team that was at all impressive this World Cup, the Netherlands, rely on two players (Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder) already in the tail end of their careers. The others looked weak or worse. It's hard to see how Germany will have any serious European competition by 2016. After that it's just as questionable if anybody will emerge on the world stage: Brazil has been plunged into an existential crisis that will take at least a few cycles to recover from. Argentina will have to rebuild around somebody other than Lionel Messi, who anyway isn't all that great as we now know. Maybe Colombia can mount a challenge? Maybe Italy or France or Spain will be able to reload? Or maybe the challenger will come from somewhere else, entirely unexpected. The point is this: the top of the world soccer pyramid is now firmly occupied by the German national team. It will take a lot to wrest it away from them.

Jun 29, 2014

Arjen Robben, Rafa Marquez and the politics of makeup calls

Let's get one thing out of the way first: Arjen Robben blatantly took a dive in the 92nd minute of today's round of 16 matchup between Mexico and the Netherlands. The dive was rewarded with a penalty, which Klaus Jan Huntelaar coverted, and Mexico lost the game as a result.


Robben is a cheater who was rewarded for his deceit. Rafa Marquez was punished for a crime he did not commit. On the surface, this is a gross injustice. But let's look at the bigger picture:

1. At the end of the first half, a blatant penalty to Holland was not rewarded. This penalty can be seen as a makeup call.
2. Rafa Marquez is a notorious hothead and dirty player who as a result of his past conduct deserves to be viewed with close scrutiny by referees. If he is the victim of a bad call he only has himself to blame at this stage of his career.
3. The game was already tied and headed for extra time, thanks to a super strike by Wesley Sneijder that left no chance even for Mexico's superb goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa. Mexico's record in extra time is poor. Their record in penalty shootouts is downright miserable.
4. Mexico really shouldn't be at this World Cup to begin with. They finished fourth in the six-team Hexagonal playoff and that only by virtue of a last minute goal by Graham Zusi to tie Panama in the U.S.'s last match, which dropped Panama to fourth and allowed El Tri to qualify via a play-in against New Zealand.

So yeah, Mexico deserve our sympathy. But only to a point.