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Oliver Bierhoff: Germany winning the 2014 World Cup is ’something of an impossibility’

Kit Holden
Joachim Loew head coach of 300x225 Oliver Bierhoff: Germany winning the 2014 World Cup is something of an impossibility

Joachim Loew, head coach of the German national football

The last time Germany won a major trophy, Oliver Bierhoff scored the winning goal. Since that day at Wembley in 1996, the nation has been in one of the most significant dry patches in its illustrious football history. Abject failures in 2000 and 2004 were followed by agonisingly close run campaigns in 2006, 2008 and 2010.

Worst of all, perhaps, was the last one.  With Joachim Löw’s reformed German side supposedly approaching its zenith, great things were expected at Euro 2012. And while qualification for the semi finals might not seem like failure, the manner in which Germany crashed out of the tournament marked the first time that the new generation had underachieved. After so much hype, so much expectation, the revolutionised Nationalelf, in a flurry of tactical and psychological errors, fell prey to the same old Italian foe that had defeated them so many times in the past.

It is little wonder, then, that Bierhoff, now General Manager of the German national team, has been keen to put a dampener on any excessive expectations for the rapidly approaching World Cup. In a press conference this week, the former AC Milan striker told press that a European team winning the tournament in Brazil was “something of an impossibility”. For the German press, it was an unexpected, even unwelcome attack of realism. Bierhoff, the second most powerful man in the national team setup, had effectively written the Germans off more than a year before the tournament’s opening.

So, at least, was the immediate conclusion. In fact, Bierhoff’s declaration was hardly unprecedented. No European side has ever become World Champions in North or South America, and with the likes of Argentina and Brazil rebuilding their reputations after a few years in the shadow of their European adversaries, it is no exaggeration to say that a German – or even a Spanish – victory in Brazil next summer is more of a possibility than a likelihood.

Even more significant than statistical evidence, though, is what Bierhoff’s quote tells us about the development of this Germany side. The disappointment at Euro 2012 all but dispelled the idea that this was a team destined for greatness. The quality of the resources has not changed, but the mentality with which Joachim Löw’s side approaches the next tournament will be significantly different to that of last year.

Certainly, this seems to be the party line, with Joachim Loew gently reinforcing Bierhoff’s argument at a follow up press conference: “Obviously we’re travelling to Brazil among the favourites. But there are a whole host of teams with a lot of quality – Argentina, Brazil, Spain, Italy. It’s important that, here in Germany, we now show a little bit of humility. We haven’t even qualified yet.”

It is a far cry from the chest banging self-congratulation which plagued the build up to Euro 2012, and it is a mindset which will remind the players that, for all their excellence, they are still among a rare generation of German internationals not to have won a major trophy. In his time as Bundestrainer, Löw has entirely subverted the way the world views Germany. Gone are the clichés of gritty efficiency and unattractive football, replaced by an admiration for a relentless production line of youth talent and an attacking, pacy, enthralling brilliance on the field. His next challenge is to make sure that they transform that into cold, hard silverware.

Löw’s latest step into the tactical unknown is to follow the example of Spain and play without a central striker. While their are some voices of dissent, it is difficult to see it as anything but a sensible move. Germany have a plethora of superb attacking midfielders, and only a handful of – somewhat unpredictable – out and out centre forwards. For Jogi the Innovator, it is a natural change in keeping with modern football: “In the development of football, there are always certain changes, which we have to adapt to. Maybe in the future, we will even see small centre backs, who’ll be better at dealing with Messi.”

Humour aside, there is little doubt that Löw’s tactical revolution is still charging on at full speed. The few mistakes he made in that area at Euro 2012 have been sufficiently highlighted, and his nose for novelty is no less impressive now than it was several years ago. If there is one old stereotype which Loew needs to reclaim, however, it is that of the German mentality. In Poland and Ukraine, the hype was such that Germany almost came to resemble England in their certainty over their own future. Bierhoff and Loew, it seems, have acknowledged that mistake. And they are determined not to make it again.

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