Comment and Analysis
World Cup: Germany must show more than against Ghana
Germany lack variety in their star-studded attack and have yet to demonstrate their credentials as one of the tournament favourites, writes Ian Watson.
Last Updated: 23/06/14 11:34am
No one can doubt the class of Miroslav Klose after he equalled the World Cup goalscoring record but, after two matches of his fourth finals, his Germany side are yet to demonstrate that they have all the qualities required in Brazil to earn a fourth star above the eagle on their chests.
Joachim Low's side started with a 4-0 win over a 10-man Portugal side who failed to test their European rivals after Pepe's lunacy left them a man short. Ghana, though, ran Die Nationalmannschaft much closer, with Klose required off the bench to rescue a 2-2 draw, with his side drifting through their second Group G game, rarely moving out of second gear as they eased towards their fourth point.
The 30-degree heat and high humidity in Fortaleza may have contributed to their lethargy, or perhaps their tradition of struggling on matchday two weighed on their weary minds. Germany have won only one of their second matches in the group stage in the previous five finals, with a defeat to Serbia in 2010 making them sweat over a second round place in South Africa. Per Mertesacker acknowledged that "warning" ahead of the Ghana clash, but they failed to heed it and still could have suffered the same fate had their opponents' decision making been better in the final third.
The talk in Germany ahead of the finals was that it was now or never. Not necessarily for this team, but for Low, despite the fact he has a contract to 2016. But the coach should take credit after this draw for making a crucial double substitution at 2-1 down which reaped almost immediate reward. Bastian Schweinsteiger was introduced with Klose and within a minute, the former helped win the corner from which the latter netted the leveller - on the night and for the record alongside Ronaldo.
Low's side, like Brazil and Argentina, may be seeking to peak at the appropriate time but, on Saturday, they were almost made to pay for their sluggishness by Ghana, who knew defeat would mean going out at the group stage - well short of their last-four target.
Germany were unchanged in a 4-3-3, which Low has recently tweaked from the 4-2-3-1 which has served them well. Perhaps the switch in formation is why they are yet to really discover their attacking fluency, which may come after they iron out the kinks through the group stage.
But what was noticeable about Germany is a lack of width. Mesut Ozil and Mario Gotze will both drift inside towards Thomas Muller, while Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos, who flank Philipp Lahm a little deeper in midfield, also tend to look inwards.
With so many centrally-minded players in midfield and attack, space would tend to open up for full-backs to provide attacking width. But Benedikt Howedes and Jerome Boateng - both centre-backs by trade - are either reluctant to get forward and instructed not to.
Low presumably recognised the problem and his first substitution was key in Germany's opening goal. Former Everton reserve Shkodran Mustafi replaced Boateng on the right, and it was his overlapping burst on the right which created the space for Muller to deliver a cross into the space he vacated for Gotze to bundle home.
Unfortunately for Low, Mustafi's presence was also crucial in Ghana's equaliser, with the Sampdoria defender beaten in the air by Andre Ayew, who gave up four inches in height to his marker. Boateng would probably not have been beaten quite so easily, but nor would he have bombed up the line to help open up the space for Germany's opener.
Low's attack is blessed with incredible technicians, with Ozil and Gotze both more than capable of beating a man. That was not a feature against Ghana, though. Germany attempted just four take-ons in the final third with only one successful. They recorded 10 take-ons overall, with four of the five attempts taking place in the centre circle.
Germany's struggle to beat Ghana in one-on-one situations allowed Kwesi Appiah's side to retain their shape, forcing the Germans to pass through them. Ghana remained compact, and denied Ozil, Kroos and Co any angles for penetrating passes and the opportunity to play in behind defenders.
If Germany are to progress through the tournament, they have to avoid falling into the same trap as home-bound Spain, who struggled to break down sides who denied them the time and space to pass though defensive lines. Low has developed a system which makes them hard to beat while accommodating the big names but more variety in attack will be required when the tournament moves into the knockout stages.