Group G: A very German affair (and the good‘ol German winning mentality)
It was exactly 40 years ago when there were two German teams represented at the FIFA World Cup finals.
Before the German reunification in 1990, East Germany made its first and only appearance at the World Cup finals in 1974 hosted by West Germany. Both teams were drawn into the same group with East Germany winning the talk-of-the-town group tie, though the Cup was eventually lifted by West Germany.
Fast forward to the 2014 edition, 24-year-old Thomas Müller has continued to come of age for Germany like a clear shadow of the legendary Gerd Müller who had hung up his golden boots after scoring the Cup winner in the 1974 final.
From Müller to Müller
Sharing the jersey number 13, the Müller protégé had concluded his maiden World Cup campaign in 2010 as top scorer just as Müller extraordinaire did in 1970 at his first - though the protégé managed just half the number of goals (5).
During Germany’s 4-0 annihilation of Portugal in Group G’s opening match at Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador on Monday, Müller protégé hunted down yet another ‘first’ for himself with his handsome claim of the tournament’s first hat trick.
With the average age of Germany’s frontline attack just under 24-years-old, even 30-year-old captain Philip Lahm’s usual commanding presence could not hide the youthful discipline on display that may have won them many new converts.
From bringing out the headbutter in Pepe to outclassing Cristiano “King of step-overs” Ronaldo with the German team’s very own triple step-over free-kick that day, it was a catastrophic opener for the equally star-studded Portuguese team.
From West Germany to West Coast
The only consolation for Portugal in Group G’s opener was they weren’t the only ones who were dealt a cruel blow by way of a German invasion.
Ghana, a quarterfinalist at the last World Cup in South Africa, saw their hopes of coming through the group stages this year battered by a masterpiece late-winner made by a celebrated German coach and executed by a German-American rising star.
Calling up five German-Americans players for his 2014 team to Brazil - amongst others playing in the European leagues - USA coach Jürgen Klinsmann himself knows what it means to have the winning mentality at football’s biggest stage.
Klinsmann lifted Germany’s last World Cup title in 1990 when he was himself a then-new star of the West German team, before he relocated to America’s West Coast with his Chinese-American wife upon retiring from the national setup.
Star players seldom make star coaches; but Klinsmann showed he’s a rare find following his successful coaching campaign for Germany at the last World Cup.
Upon his 2011 appointment as national soccer head coach for USA - a nation of immigrants - Klinsmann has since assembled a “multi-national” outfit true to his keen vision and brand of football, or at least, what he knows is needed for long-term success if Germany’s impeccable youth football system is of a starting point.
More than just a lucky late winner?
So when 21-year-old Berlin-born John Brooks stepped up to deliver America’s epic winner against Ghana in their opening game, that moment of magic offered some insight into Klinsmann’s stubborn belief in his German-Americans young guns.
Because soccer is oftentimes more a game of mentality than of experience alone, and there are the psychological qualities that make a winner that can’t be simply taught if not already instilled within an athlete through its youth training system.
If the game against Ghana was a showcase of Klinsmann’s workmanship to the majority of USA, who may only tune-in to the sport once every four years, then what was witnessed was a new brand of resilience and discipline in US Soccer.
For faithful followers of soccer, European leagues especially, pulling off a stunner of a late-winner like John Brooks did was nice, but also a weekly, regular fixture.
Research has shown that the Germans (and Dutch) have an “edge” at scoring late winners – many soccer fans have dubbed this as the German winning mentality.
With some of football’s biggest stars in its line-up (never mind the rumours on Cristiano Ronaldo’s knee injury for now, think: Luis Suarez), USA’s upcoming match-up against Portugal this Sunday will count as a truer test of how far the infamous German winning mentality has indeed infiltrated the Team USA camp.
A win will send USA through to the round of 16 and poised for a top 8 spot.
With Germany drawing with Ghana on Saturday opening up the group again, a win against USA will help Portugal avoid tasting the fate of their fellow star-studded Spanish and English casts (and I am absolutely sure FIFA is keeping their fingers and toes crossed).
Two Olympic Games and too many racket sports gigs later, Jan has been living her dreams traveling the world working at global sport events as a media girl. From watching Singapore win Malaysia Cup as a 9-year-old fangirl to finding her story published on Liverpool FC’s website 12 years later, she believes football is magic.