Are Germany the new Spain?

It was already the scene of one European humiliation. But, as if claiming the scalp of world champions Spain was not enough, the Fonte Nova Arena in Salvador served up yet another humbling of a European heavyweight.

Germany's 4-0 trouncing of a Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal delivered a warning to world football's elite that Joachim Loew's men are serious title contenders in Brazil.

The lop-sided manner of Monday's Group G opener created shockwaves reminiscent of last week's 5-1 thrashing of Spain by the Netherlands. But, while the emphatic Dutch win raised questions of the future of Spain's tiki-taka brand of football and whether it remains enough to dominate teams, Germany's victory may have breathed fresh life into the short-passing game.

Slick, quick touches, intelligent off-the-ball running and decisiveness in the final third were the hallmarks of Spain at their peak.

The Germans have that and more. They strung together 588 passes, had a completion rate of 82 per cent and enjoyed 54 per cent of the ball, numbers similar to Spain's. But they have added speed and urgency to the mix, almost like a marriage of possession and counter-attacking football.

Everything they do is quicker, from closing down opponents when not in control of the ball, to their swift interchanging of passes and positions when they regain possession, at times involving up to seven players in an attacking position.

It was in direct contrast to the lumbering Portuguese, whose backline just could not cope with the constant German pressure and found themselves three goals down and a man short by half-time. Despite a bright first 10 minutes, when Nani and Ronaldo looked dangerous, the Portuguese wilted under the heat and humidity - the match kicked off at 1pm local time - with Ronaldo largely marked out of the game by Jerome Boateng.

"We did make mistakes, not only in our defence but also in the sharpness of our attack," said Portugal coach Paulo Bento after the loss to Germany - Portugal's fourth in four major tournaments, following the 2006 World Cup and the 2008 and 2012 European Championships.

"For us, the game was over by half-time and, although we tried a bit in the second half, we didn't show much either."

How Bento would have loved to be able to rely on players such as Mesut Oezil, Thomas Mueller, Toni Kroos and Mario Goetze, Germany's four skilful and athletic attacking midfielders who tore his team apart.

The ease and fluidity with which the quartet work the ball, coupled with the fact that they are constantly changing positionsOezil started in the false nine position, but then drifted right to allow Mueller to take the more central role - makes playing them a nightmare, but watching them a dream.

"We dominated the first half in the midfield with fast through-balls to the strikers," said Loew of the result that saw Germany become the first team to reach 100 World Cup wins. "We played at high pace in the first half to get our chances." And they were clinical in the first half, with Mueller accounting for two of the strikes and playing a key role in getting Pepe sent off.

The first was from the penalty spot after Goetze appeared to have been hauled down by Joao Pereira, although the Portuguese claimed the German made the most of it.

Mats Hummels headed the Germans into a 2-0 lead from a corner, before the Pepe sending-off - for headbutting Mueller - and a Mueller second compounded a miserable 45 minutes.

"These were the two things that seemed to show bias and they were both decisive," Bento said of the penalty and red card.

Perhaps what was even more decisive in Portugal's downfall was the assured performance of Mueller. His second-half tap-in after a goalkeeping error by Rui Patricio gave him a hat-trick and took his amazing World Cup tally to eight goals in seven matches.

"We just want to be world champions and, if we do that, records may or may not come, but we have other things to focus on," said Mueller, 24, who was joint top-scorer at the 2010 World Cup with five goals and also won the young player award.

Perhaps that is what sets Germany apart from the other tournament favourites. Their burden, unlike Brazil, Argentina and the Netherlands, is being shared by a number of players and not just one or two.

Ultimately, football is a team sport and Germany, at the moment, are the best team.

marclim@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on June 18, 2014.
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