Germany: No sign that the luck is starting to run out

SOCHI, RUSSIA - JUNE 23: Joachim Loew, head coach of Germany reacts during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Germany and Sweden at Fisht Stadium on June 23, 2018 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - JUNE 23: Joachim Loew, head coach of Germany reacts during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Germany and Sweden at Fisht Stadium on June 23, 2018 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images) /

Germany have been far and away the favorites to sweep the tournament and retain their World Cup title. Results until now have been mixed, but does fortune’s smile give them the edge?

Every World Cup has its own story to tell, a narrative that comes to define the competition. 1986 was all about Diego Maradona, believe me, even though Socrates, Michael Laudrup, Lothar Matthaus, Michel Platini and top scorer Gary Lineker were all on show.

1998 and 2006 featured the equal parts unexpected rise and fall of Zinedine Zidane, a player who took to heart his manager’s advice to just use his head.

No World Cup fails to have a memorable plotline, well, except possibly 2002 which was so objectively bad that Ronaldo’s hideous haircut was the primary subject of discussion.

This year, in Russia, things seem to be heading in a clear direction. The VAR Cup they call it. That seminal moment in which the tournament was transformed forever, not necessarily for the good many would argue.

Another story seems to be flowing, however, as an undercurrent. The big teams, those expected to succeed, aren’t performing as well as was expected before.

Several of these sides, Argentina, Brazil, France, Spain et al have looked insipid, slow, lacking in ideas and creativity, the proverbial deer in the headlights. Above all, though, is Germany.

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The Mannschaft have looked so completely out of their comfort zone that it has left many observers scratching their heads in bewilderment.

They are, after all, the favourites to win the tournament by a margin. The deepest squad, the smartest manager, unlimited resources at his disposal, Joachim Loew had the enviable luxury of not even taking to Russia some players who would walk into the starting XI of any other team on the planet.

The reigning World Cup champions from 2014, his side also swept the Confederations Cup last year, almost at a canter. Yet is it such a shock at all that Germany have failed to live up to their bidding?

Only a few weeks before the opening game, Germany lost a friendly to Austria 20-1, the first time they had been beaten by their neighbours in 32 years.

This was not just one result, but a string of ill-fated friendlies which saw the Germans go without a win for the longest period in over 20 years.

The streak would, ultimately, be snapped against Saudi Arabia in their final game before the beginning of the World Cup. Winning 2-1 in the end, Loew’s men were assumed to be on course now to romp home and engrave their names as the best team in football yet again, and one of the few in history to retain said title.

But that isn’t, of course, the end of the story. Germany would go into their first game against Mexico and be opened up, losing 1-0 on the day which, but for poor finishing, could easily have been 4 or 5.

Gaping wide holes in the middle of the park, big enough to fly the DFB team plane through, were coupled with an almost non-existent defence and Mexico were never troubled from start to finish.

In their second game, Germany topped Sweden 2-1 with a last minute winner and a few fortunate refereeing calls in the run up.

This has suddenly galvanised the Mannschaft faithful and led to all sorts of inappropriate nonsense like the German coaches openly mocking their Swedish counterparts at the end of the game. Rather petty for a team as highly billed as the Germans, but oh well.

Leaving that aside though, what has changed? I would argue little has. Germany have rode their luck for years and perhaps finally it is coming home to roost.

Rewind back to that Saudi Arabia game and you’ll see that Germany actually didn’t deserve to win it at all, they were second to every ball and lacked the hunger and fight to break down the team sitting 66 places beneath them in the FIFA World Rankings.

It was luck, indeed, that defined that game with even Loew himself admitting “In the end, we were lucky to win”

It’s normal fare for winning managers to praise their players and give them confidence, leaving the hypothetical discussions of “luck” to the opponent. Yet here we see Loew had to confess his side had to rely heavily on fortune to edge past a vastly inferior side that, honestly, I couldn’t name you a single player from.

And that’s not all, Loew went one further and had to attribute the victory over Sweden to luck as well saying “I think there was a bit of luck there with the goal scored in stoppage time”.

Imagine, he wants to galvanize his side past the group stages yet the truth is unavoidable, slapping us all, no more than him, in the face – Germany got lucky. Indeed, the German luck is well known, so much so that during the 2014 World Cup that Matts Hummels attributed luck, not skill, to their advance.

In the end it remains hard, perhaps impossible, to see how things will change for Germany going forward. Their results until now have not been good, their performances even less so, but when it really, genuinely counts, they seem to be able to do what is required.

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The hallmark of a good team, or perhaps just the hallmark of a lucky one. Call it what you will, but in my eyes it’s all part of the narrative being penned by Germany, not VAR, that we will remember from this tournament for decades yet to come.