After two third-place finishes in a row, the German national team looked to finally get over the hump in Brazil. 2014 represented the 24th anniversary of Die Mannschaft’s third World Cup win in 1990, and hopes were high that the quest for a fourth star would finally come to an end. These hopes were not without reason, as Germany had qualified for the competition convincingly, winning nine of their ten qualification games. Yet it was the one game they failed to win that stuck in the memory. On 16th October 2012, something unbelievable happened. Löw’s side had run rings around Sweden in Berlin, leading 4-0 in the 62nd minute. All signs pointed towards a win, but that was not to be the case.
In a space of 28 minutes, Sweden rallied around their talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic to score four goals, a result that the Swedish press labelled as “the best comeback in the history of Swedish sport”. It was an historic turnaround. At no other point in their history had Die Mannschaft surrendered a four-goal lead. Team manager Oliver Bierhoff didn’t hold back in his reaction: “I hope that this will serve as a lesson!” But after 32 World Cup qualifiers unbeaten, the confidence levels did not drop. In fact it only grew, especially after the two German sides Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich met at London’s Wembley Stadium for the Champions League final in May 2013. The majority of the players in those two teams also played for the national team. German football was clearly on the up.
But in the 2013/14 season, performances in Europe were disappointing across the board, and several stars were failing to play to their full potential. It led Joachim Löw to send a clear message ahead of a friendly against Brazil in March 2014. “I told the players that the clock is ticking. Only those who choose to listen to it have a chance at being selected.”
Löw included a few surprise names in his preliminary squad for the summer’s World Cup. Even captain Philipp Lahm hadn’t heard of Sampdoria defender Shkodran Mustafi. Even teenagers such as Leon Goretzka and Max Meyer were given the chance to prove themselves, as well as Dortmund defender Erik Durm, who had only made 19 Bundesliga appearances. Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Christoph Kramer had hardly played in many more games himself (33), yet it was the impressive amount of distance he had covered – the highest in the Bundesliga – that had caught the eye of the selectors.
It was a development that was sure to make a few more established figures a little uneasy. Manuel Neuer and Philipp Lahm had both suffered injuries in the cup final between Bayern and Dortmund, a game which Bastian Schweinsteiger missed entirely. Elsewhere, Sami Khedira made his return to football in the last week of the season following his ACL tear in November 2013, and went on to win the Champions League final with Real Madrid. Through sending videos of him training, Khedira had convinced the training staff that he should be on the plane to Brazil. Taking two holding midfielders to Brazil who weren’t at 100 percent was a definite risk for Joachim Löw. Yet the biggest blow came when Marco Reus injured himself in the final warm-up game agaisnt Armenia, resulting in Shkodran Mustafi taking his place on the Lufthansa flight to Porto Seguro on 7 June.
Germany were drawn into group G in December 2013, and therefore had to wait a while before they could finally get their first taste of World Cup action. After 24 other teams had already played their first games, Die Mannschaft kicked their campaign off on 16 June. Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo awaited in Salvador de Bahia. Joachim Löw had to do without Schweinsteiger and gave the holding midfield role to Philipp Lahm – just as was the case at FC Bayern in the months prior to the tournament. With Khedira and Toni Kroos at his side, the former full-back was flanked by some experienced holding midfielders, and any pre-match criticism was soon quieted. Mario Götze got the nod up front ahead of veterean Miroslav Klose, but the goalscorer on the day turned out to be Thomas Müller. The man from Munich, who was already the top scorer at his first World Cup in 2010, carried on where he left off in South Africa.
The opener really was the Müller show, as the forward scored a hat-trick in the 4-0 win. The other goalscorer was Mats Hummels, who converted a header from a Toni Kroos corner. The game was effectively decided in the first half with the score at 3-0 and Portugal’s Pepe sent off in the 37th minute.
Die Mannschaft returned to the team base in high spirits after the game against Portugal, although the media was quick to warn about becoming over-confident. The second game of a major tournament is always tricky, and this was no exception. Ghana proved to be tough opponents and held Germany to a 2-2 draw. Löw’s side was unchanged from the one that beat Portugal so convincingly in Salavador de Bahia, but they didn’t play like winners. No goals were scored before half time, with Ghana keeping the game open and giving Manuel Neuer work to do on a few occasions.
After Götze opened the scoring with a fortunate goal after the break, Ghana hit back swiftly with two goals of their own in the space of nine minutes. It was the first time Germany had been behind in the World Cup. It took exactly eight minutes for a pair of substitutes to combine for an equaliser. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Miro Klose were both making their first appearances in the tournament, with the latter poking the former’s corner over the line to level the scoreline. It was his 15th World Cup goal, a feat only matched by Brazil’s Ronaldo.
As the Lahm debate roared on, Löw stuck to his guns against Jürgen Klinsmann’s USA side. He changed the lineup by briniging in Schweinsteiger and Podolski for Khedira and Götze, yet his system was untouched. The Americans were coming off a 2-2 draw against Portugal after conceding in the 95th minute, a goal which meant they still had work to do for a spot in the knockout phase. Die Mannschaft controlled the proceedings from the outset, although they only had one goal to show for it. Müller found the back of the net on the edge of the box from a corner in the 55th minute. The 1-0 win ensured Germany’s World Cup campaign was not yet over.
After 48 games in which 136 goals were scored, the World Cup had earned a well-deserved rest day. Five former World Champions had made it to the knockout stages. And for the first time in World Cup history, all group winners made it to the quarterfinals. That went for Germany too, although they struggled heavily against the surprise package of the tournament so far – Algeria. Extra time was needed to see the game out, with Andre Schürrle and Mesut Özil dashing the hopes of the African side. But the most significant development was Manuel Neuer’s newfound identity as a sweeper keeper – a role he is now renowned for. He touched the ball 19 times in total outside the box, and saved the day four times under huge pressure with his head or feet. Neuer after the game: “This is how I play my game now.”
Die Mannschaft had the honour of opening the quarter-final stage on 4th July against France, a game that was to be played in the sensational Maracana stadium. It was the first time that Khedira and Schweinsteiger would play together at this World Cup. Löw went for experience up front, selecting Klose to lead the line. Another headed goal from Mats Hummels was the lone goal on the day, and sent Germany into the semifinals for the fourth time in a row. The reaction from the Maracana: Löw had found his best team.
Facing hosts Brazil in the semi-final, it was a clash of the two most successful World Cup nations in history. But playing in their red away kit, it was Germany who rose to the occasion. Everything went right, almost every shot was a goal. And with every passing minute the Brazilians’ resolve dwindled more and more. Müller got things going in the eleventh minute after being left unmarked from a corner. Brazil clearly hadn’t learned from their mistake as Klose scored from a very similar situation just twelve minutes later (23’). It was his record-breaking 16th World Cup goal. It started an unforgettable period of six minutes, in which three more goals went in. First Kroos (24’), then Kroos again (26’), before Khedira rubbed salt into the wounds of a suffering nation (29’). There were no flukes, they were all beautiful goals.
Schürrle again proved his credentials as a super-sub by scoring two more goals, before Oscar scored a consolation goal in the last minute. But it couldn’t save them from embarassment. “Nothing like that will ever happen again. We can only apologise to the nation,” said a dejected Felipe Scolari. FC Bayern defender Dante, who made his debut in the semi-final, made no doubt about it: “Germany is six years ahead of us, we have to learn from this.”
And so it was to be Germany against Argentina for the 2014 World Cup, two traditionally successful nations in major tournaments. It was the third time they had met at this stage, after the 1986 and 1990 World Cups. Germany were clear favourites after the 7-1 win over Brazil, and they had support from the host nation as well, who wanted nothing less than their continental rivals to take home the spoils. However, Thomas Müller was quick to warn that “We havent won anything yet.”
As his friend Schürrle pushed down the left wing and crossed the ball in with intent in the 113rd minute, Götze took his moment to shine. He chested the ball down and slotted the ball past the Argentinian keeper with his left foot as he fell to the ground. It was a goal that will live long in the memory. Millions of Germans everywhere erupted into celebration - in fan zones, in sports bars and in their own homes. Die Mannschaft had one hand on the trophy, now they just needed to see the game out. Schweinsteiger played on with a bloody face and became the symbol of German resilience.
Then, at 23:35 CEST, referee Nicola Rizzoli blew his whistle. Germany were World Cup winners. The quest for the fourth star was over. Germany wrote history as the first European country to win a World Cup in South America, as the nation with most goals by substitutes (5) and as the nation with the all-time leading goalscorer in its ranks. Miro Klose stepped down from international duty in triumph, alongside both Philipp Lahm and Per Mertesacker.
Goalkeepers: Manuel Neuer (7 appearances), Roman Weidenfeller (0), Ron Robert Zieler (0)
Defenders: Jerome Boateng (7), Erik Durm (0), Matthias Ginter (0), Kevin Großkreutz (0), Benedikt Höwedes (7), Mats Hummels (6/2 goals), Philipp Lahm (7), Per Mertesacker (6), Shkodran Mustafi (3)
Midfielders: Julian Draxler (1), Mario Götze (6/2), Sami Khedira (5/1), Christoph Kramer (3), Toni Kroos (7/2), Thomas Müller (7/5), Mesut Özil (7/1), Bastian Schweinsteiger (6)
Forwards: Mario Götze (6/2), Miroslav Klose (5/2), Lukas Podolski (2), André Schürrle (6/3)