As we celebrate Thanksgiving in the U.S. and commemorate the celebrations that originated in Plymouth in 1621, I figured it would be an ideal time to give thanks to something near and dear to my heart … ‘Die Mannschaft’, the German Men’s National Soccer Team. The popularity and on-the-pitch success of Joachim Loew’s men is at an unprecedented high and if current form is an indicator of future performance than the country’s #3 world FIFA ranking is probably on the low side.
Here is Germany’s ‘tale of the tape’ for 2011:
- 13 national team international matches-6 Euro 2012 Qualifiers, 7 Friendlies
- 9 wins, 3 ties, 1 loss
- Perfect Euro 2012 qualifying campaign: 10 games, 10 wins, 30 points, 34 goals scored, 7 conceded (21 goals scored in 2011)
- Five starters scored 5 or more goals including Mario Gomez (6), Miroslav Klose (5), Thomas Mueller (5), Mesut Oezil (5) and Andre Schuerrle (5)
- Youngest Germany team in modern history
- Miroslav Klose, 2nd on international goal list to Gerd Mueller, celebrates 100th cap with 2 goals in Kaiserslautern (March 26)
- Friendly victories over Brazil (3:2), The Netherlands (3:0) and Uruguay (2:1)
Beyond the outstanding on-the-field results,what made Die Mannschaft particularly lethal in 2011 and heading into Poland And Ukraine (Euro 2012) next June is the roster depth at each position and overall youth. There’s a running joke routinely thrown in the face of new job applicants (especially in Germany where the average age of out of school employees is 25+) that calls for a 20-year-old job candidate with 10 years of work experience. This reminds of the German youth movement, players like Goetze (19), Schuerrle (21), Toni Kroos (21), Thomas Mueller (21), Mats Hummels (22) and Oezil (23) are babies but have all played for many years and gathered more than their share of high-profile, international match experience.
Speaking of the young guns as well as the ‘tribe elders’, here are some individual accolades I deemed appropriate for 2011:
Newcomer of the year: Andre Schuerrle. Last year he played at Mainz, this year’s he’s secured a lucrative deal with Leverkusen, and with 5 goals (all in 2011) in 11 national team appearances he’s one of the young guns shooting for Euro 2012 glory.
Bonefide superstar: Mesut Oezil is a stud. Propelled into the international spotlight with a solid world cup performance in South Africa, his Real Madrid debut in 2010 was nothing short of spectacular. He led Spanish La Liga in goal assists last year and has become Mourinho’s MVP with his ability to satisfy Cristiano Ronaldo’s insatiable appetite for goals.
The 75+ CAPS Club: Piere Mertesacker (79), Lukas Podolski (95), Miro Klose (113), Philip Lahm (85) and Bastian Schweinsteiger (90) are German’s tribe elders and by far the most experienced of the bunch. While Klose might still make it to Brazil in 2014, the others have at least 3 or 4 more major international tournaments in them.
“Seems like he’s been there forever” award: Manuel Neuer has only collect 25 caps as Germany’s #1 in goal but ever since he replaced Rene Adler before South Africa, the humble Bayern keeper has settled in as the calm and collected ‘back-stop’ of Die Mannschaft. Considering many goalies play well into their 30s, Neuer has at least another decade of history making in front of him.
Razzie recipient (award for ‘worst’ performance): Michael Ballack is settling into his supporting role for Bayer Leverkusen, but his exit from the German team was anything but graceful. Hexed with a major pre-worldcup injury, he never recovered to represent Deutschland and feuded loudly and often with DFB (German Soccer Federation) officials about his dismissal.
“Don’t quit your day job’ award: Philip Lahm for authoring a ‘tell all’ book on various managers of the national team forcing a public apology and debate over his worthiness as German captain.
“Clicking on all cylinders” award: German Youth academies for nurturing supreme soccer talent and re-vitalizing and re-juvenating German soccer from the amateur ranks to the national side.
“Would hate to have your job” award: Paul the Octopus, the famous German cephalopod mollusc known world-wide for its ability to predict all victors of the 2010 World Cup. Although Paul is no longer in the prediction business (in fact, he ended up as a tasty fried side dish some time ago), he has inspired a new generation of savvy octopuses that will no doubt be thrust into the Euro 2012 spotlight when it comes to next summer’s wagers and predictions.
“Show them how it’s done” award: German Women’s National team and their gracious early exit from the 2011 World Cup as well as their overall tasteful and humane handling of the Birgit Prinz saga.