Germany's World Cup hopes and Bundesliga dependant on the young
Munich - It was no surprise that Germany won their opening match of the FIFA World Cup 2010 on Sunday night against Australia. But it was how they did it and who starred in that victory that merits a closer look.
The English Premier League may be considered the best football/soccer league in the world, in regards to talent, marketing, and reach; and they have the most players in the World Cup (119) including all on the England squad. But we all witnessed how 'strong' they were in their opener against the USA, particularly in goal.
The Bundesliga has the second-most players in the World Cup with 84 players. In the 2009-2010, no European league performed better than the German league and would have moved up to number three in the UEFA league coefficient rankings had Bayern Munich won the Champions League Final. But for now, all 23 players on the national team in South Africa play in the Bundesliga and it's their young talent that will decide if Germany will win the World Cup.
And we saw a glimpse of that talent on Sunday evening. Starting with Lukas Podolski. Four years ago, he announced himself to the world, winning the Best Young Player at the Finals played here in Germany. Since then, he signed on with Bayern looking to continue his rise as a global star. However, he struggled and was underutilized during his time in Munich. Many, including myself, were confused as to why someone with such talent and who performs so well for his country could not do the same in the league. His selection to the German roster this year was questionable as he continued to struggle this past season returning to Cologne. "I played a good tournament the last time and the last few games for Germany were good for me. I hope to pick up where I left off," Podolski said last week. "I've been training well, I feel good." And he demonstrated that in the first match.
Bastian Schweinsteiger also joined the German squad in 2004. Both he and 'Poldi' were tabbed as Germany's future stars. Schweini's performance in the third-place match in 2006 against Portugal was indicative of how he can take over a match and show some power when needed. Unlike Podolski, he is regularly in the starting lineup for Bayern, but coaches have struggled with where to play him. In the middle? At the back? On the flanks? With the injury to captain Michael Ballack, Schweinsteiger may not have received the captain's title, but he secured his place in the formation in the middle and he was able to control the action on Sunday.
Despite their still young ages, Poldi (25) and Schweini (25) are now the elder statesmen along with current captain Philipp Lahm (26, on the squad since February 2004). Germany's hopes rely on their leadership even more now, as it is the newbies that are the future. Thomas Mueller (club: Bayern, age: 20), Mesut Oezil (Bremen, 19), Marko Marin (Bremen, 21), Toni Kroos (Leverkusen/Bayern, 20), Sami Khedira (Stuttgart, 23), Holger Badstuber (Bayern, 21), and Manuel Neuer (Schalke, 24) are the core players of Germany's youth movement. Khedira, Oezil, Marin and Neuer were all on the Under-21 team that won the European Championship. They beat, yes, England, 4-nil.
And on Sunday night, Oezil and Mueller were the teeth in the German attack that 'tore apart' the Australian defense (as promised by Poldi and Marin). Mueller's pull back set up Poldi's laser for the first goal and then he scored the 3rd goal. Oezil had many chances and then finally set up Cacau for the fourth goal to ice the victory.
Neuer was not tested in the first match, so it remains to be seen if he can survive in this tournament. He only has 6 caps for the national team, but with 20 caps for the U-21 including the Final and starting for Schalke proves he's the best choice for #1 in the net.
Germany's next match on Friday against Serbia has them to clear favorite to win the group, especially after their peformance against the Socceroos and Serbia's weak effort against Ghana. A win and Germany will be through to the knockout stage. I'm looking forward then for the third match only to see if Joachim Loew goes with a completely young squad and show off the future. This will only serve notice to everyone else that Germany is the clear title favorite not only this World Cup but the next few. And that the Bundesliga may be the league to watch over the next decade.