Joachim Loew’s men opened their European Championship qualification campaign with three points against a very impressive Belgium side who will feel they deserved more from the match. After the controversy and debate surrounding the captaincy of the national side, and Loew’s decision to exclude Michael Ballack from his squad, some may have expected Loew’s side to be a bit disillusioned by all of the media speculation and fail to perform to their usual standards. Fortunately, though, Die Mannschaft got their heads down and focused on the task at hand: a Belgium side who are full of up-and-coming talent and established European players.
Loew picked virtually the same side that finished third in the World Cup, and they once again performed admirably. The only changes from Loew’s World Cup first XI were that Marcell Jansen started in at left-back instead of the injured Jerome Boateng, and Badstuber took Friedrich’s spot in the center of defense, who was also missing due to injury.
Neuer – Lahm, Mertesacker, Badstuber, Jansen – Khedira, Schweinsteiger – Mueller, Ozil, Podolski – Klose
Loew’s side found it difficult to keep the ball and dominate the match because of the physical, hard-working Belgian midfielders who never seemed to let their guard down or lose focus for even half a second. At the end of the day, it was Klose’s goal after a Van Buyten mishap that allowed Germany to march out of Belgium with three points secured.
Leekens’ Belgium side are really a formidable one. Despite the loss, they looked for large parts of the game like the better side and were really unlucky to be on the end of a loss after being so close to scoring themselves. It’ll be a shame if they don’t make the tournament in 2012, because they’re a side with great potential. Here’s how the setup:
Bailly – Alderweireld, Van Buyten, Kompany, Vermaelen – Vertonghen, Simons, Fellaini – Hazard, Dembele – Lukaku
Leekens’ side set up in a bit of a christmas tree formation, where Vertonghen and Timmy Simons hardened the center of the midfield and anchored themselves in right in front of the defense to disrupt and destroy any and all German attacks. Fellaini was in a box-to-box role, where he would win the ball a bit higher up the pitch and then quickly put his side on the counter-attack. His physical presence was massive in this match, and I felt like he really bossed the midfield. He forced Schweinsteiger in particular into a much more defensive role.
Hazard and Dembele sat just behind the lone striker and pulled wide and cut inside and really had free-roles in between Germany’s defense and midfield. Dembele’s dribbling caused all sorts of problems; he has to be my man of the match.
Up top, Lukaku was immense. In size, if nothing else. His physicality caused some major problems for Badstuber in particular. Lukaku is only 17 years old, and he already plays like Didier Drogba minus the real confidence in his own ability. If Lukaku continues to play like he did against Germany, he’ll be the next top striker in a few years’ time. A great performance from such a young player.
Neuer impressed in goal, and without him Belgium may have walked away with a lot more than they finally did. Loew, it seems, was quite right to name him the number one goalkeeper instead of the also super-talented Rene Adler.
Germany’s attack is what we’re all really interested in, and maybe just because of how many excellent young attackers are currently coming through the ranks in the Bundesliga. For me, it was Toni Kroos who made a big impression when he replaced Podolski late in the match. He’s a far more creative player than Podolski is, and his passing ability makes him a real threat. He’s like Ozil, but on the left-wing. That’s an asset any team would gladly welcome. I think the pressure could really be on Podolski to perform, because if Kroos gets regular playing time with Bayern Munich, he may force himself into that left-wing position for Die Nationalelf.
As an aside, I’d like to see this from Loew’s side in the future:
Neuer – Lahm, Mertesacker, Friedrich(or Badstuber), Boateng – Khedira, Schweinsteiger – Marin, Ozil, Kroos – Mueller
I think playing a trio as creative and as talented as Marin, Ozil and Kroos behind a player like Mueller, whose finishing is astounding and whose link-up play is already superb to watch, could really be the way to go for Germany in the years ahead. Klose is getting older, and Mueller may be the answer up top for Germany. If he can assert himself at Bayern Munich in a more central position, then maybe Loew will try it out. I just think playing him on the right freezes Marin out of the squad, and I don’t think Germany can leave a player with the quality of Marin on the bench, at least not in the long-term.
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