Euro 2012 Contenders: Germany

With the Euro 2012 fast approaching us, we look to previewing one of the strongest teams and one of the favourites for the tournament- Germany.
Introduction

Germany would arrive in Ukraine and Poland with the tag of being heavy favorites in a tournament in which they have historically been the most successful and dominant team. Their period of dominance spans decades which has seen ‘Die Mannschaft’ lifting the European Championship trophy on no less than three occasions and finishing runners-up a further three times.

As for the upcoming tournament, the German squad bears a rather settled look with a core that hasn’t been altered much since the last World Cup where they won hearts of the people worldwide with their slick, attacking football. At the helm of the affairs is Joachim Low, who has astutely built a tactical framework that allows the creative players like Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller, Lukas Podolski to express themselves going forward, while having the likes of Sami Khedira anchoring the midfield. It is a successful formula that saw the Germans win all 10 of their qualification matches scoring an incredible 34 goals along the way and conceding just seven.

History

There is not a football nation in Europe that can quite match up to the history and tradition that the wily Germans have had over the years. Germany not only holds the record for most appearances(10) in the European Championships, but have made it to the finals on no less than six occasion, winning and losing three times each. To go along with their heroics in the Euro, ‘Die Mannschaft’ have also been World Champions on 3 occasions, making them the most successful European nation in international football with 6 major trophies. The current crop of a rather young German team have proud history to defend while making a name for themselves on one of the biggest stages in world football.

The Manager

German gaffer Joachim Low enjoyed a rather unspectacular playing career that was played out predominantly in the 2.Bundesliga , except for a short spell with Southern Germany’s prominent club Vfb Stuttgart. Low has managed clubs such as Fenerbahce, Vfb Stuttgart and Austria Vienna before taking the plunge into management with Germany in 2008 replacing Jurgen Klinsmann. Under his reign, the Germans have continued their revival with a Euro final and World Cup semifinal with a rather young core of the team. A man for sound football tactics, Low’s Germany have played attacking football against all and sundry in recent years without compromising much in the defensive third, and have witnessed defeat just 11 times in 77 matches under Low.

Key Players

After years of redeveloping their football structure post their debacle in the Euro 2004, the country stands on the precipice of reward as their restructuring finally seems to be coming to a successful fruition. The entire squad is blessed with several world class players at the moment, each of whom have the potential of being a match winner on their day.

Bastian Schweinsteiger – The Bayern Munich midfield dynamo suffered the agony of missing the decisive penalty in the Champions League final that cost his side the title. But given his mentality over the years, that would only harden Schweini’s will to win and win big in a major tournament, and much would depend on him mastering the midfield battles if Germany are to lift the title.

Mesut Ozil The Gelsenkirchen native broke through the scene with some breath taking football in South Africa two years ago. Now much more experienced, Ozil would be at the centre of Germany’s attacking fulcrum with the responsibility of being the tormenter-in-chief for the opposition teams with his mazy runs, awe inspiring dribbles and defense shattering passes.

Philip Lahm– The captain and the leader of a young German brigade, much would rest on Lahm’s shoulders. Not just for being the best ambidextrous fullback in the world, his leadership skills to command his forces would be put to a stern test come June 8 and the German fans would sure hope that Lahm passes his test with flying colors.

Absentees

Former favourite and one of the most recognizable German players of the last decade, Michael Ballack has already had his swansong and would not feature in the tournament. Some other players to have missed out on the plane to Ukraine-Poland are Marko Marin, Simon Rolfes, Arne Friedrich and Rene Adler due to a variety of factors such as lack of form, injury concerns or them not fitting into the team’s structure.

Tactics and Formation

The Germans are most likely to continue with their 4-2-3-1 shape that they have kept for the best part of the last two years that has seen them win all 10 of their Euro qualification matches.

Between the sticks for them would be Manuel Neuer, who has had a few errors lately but is among the best in the world. Tim Wiese would serve as an able backup for him. In defence, Mats Hummels and Holger Badstuber would most likely be the center halves with Arsenal’s Per Mertesacker serving as backup for the young duo. At right back, the German’s have one of the best fullacks in the world in Philip Lahm but on the other flank at left back is where they have bit of a blind spot. Both Marcel Schmelzer and Jerome Boateng would fight it out for it, with Boateng seeming an early favourite.

Coming to the midfield, their shape and personnel are very settled. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira make a fearsome midfield combination meaning Toni Kroos would most likely serve as back up. With Mesut Ozil carrying the central attacking duties, on the flanks would be Lukas Podolski on the left and despite some great form all season by Marco Reus, he would most likely be behind Thomas Muller in the pecking order for a spot on the right wing.

In attack, Low has favored Miroslav Klose but with his recent injury troubles and Mario Gomez having an astonishing season scoring over 40 goals, the latter seems to be one to lead the frontline.

Formation(4-2-3-1): Neuer- Boateng, Badstuber, Hummels, Lahm- Khedira, Schweinsteiger- Podolski, Ozil, Muller- Gomez

Players such as Toni Kroos, Marco Reus and Mario Gotze would also play a heavy role for the Germans, coming off the bench or from the start depending on the opposition and their tactics.

Strengths and Weaknesses

One of Germany’s greatest strength at the Euro’12 would be the strength in depth of their squad. They have able deputies for most positions with players such as Kroos and Gundogan behind Khedira and Schweinsteiger in the pecking order. With the likes of Marco Reus and Mario Gotze on the bench, the Germans have heavy game changing artillery on the sidelines that could be handy as substitutes.

Just as much, their team has been fairly settled and the players understand their game and the tactics fairly well meaning they consistently play their trademark refreshing football.

However, there are concerns as well around the camp, none as much as their left back situation. Jerome Boateng is best as a center half and Marcel Schmelzer has failed to take his chances at LB with Germany. The position could serve as a weak spot for an overall well balanced unit.

The fans would also hope that Germany’s Bayern contingent get over the hangover of their defeat to Chelsea in the Champions League final completing a horrid treble of second-best finishes after also losing the German(DFB Pokal) Cup final to Dortmund and finishing 2nd in the league, because the likes of Neuer, Schweinsteiger,Lahm, Gomez, Kroos and Muller would be crucial to Germany’s hopes.

Expectations at EURO 2012

There is immense breadth in the spectrum of quality among the German players for the upcoming tournament. They have an able tactician as a coach at the helm. And, a lot of their key players such as Ozil, Khedira, Neuer, Schweinsteiger, Lahm et al have gained great and often vital big match experience in the last couple of years. Anything less than a victory at Euro-2012 wouldn’t suffice and be termed a failure by their fans who have not seen a major tournament win for Germany since 1996. If there was ever a time to end the drought, and a team capable of doing it, it is this one. It’s their time to shine, and football romantics would hope that their dream of winning comes to fruition this time.

The story of ‘Il Capitano’ del Piero: 700 down and just 7 to go?

The final goodbye?

Zoom back in time. It’s summer of 1993 and  a dreamy eyed boy’s been signed up by the Turin giants Juventus from Serie B minnows Padova. That boy was Alessandro del Piero, right at the start of his great football journey with Italy’s most successful club through some incredible highs that  included a Champions League victory to some utterly infernal lows, none more so than the forced relegation of Juventus for the first time in their history as a direct consequence of the infamous Calciopoli. That boy has since progressed into a demi-god like existence for the fans having been the club’s greatest protagonist for the best part of two decades.

The legacy of Alessandro del Piero has already been defined at the Bianconeri, and his trademark runs drifting from the left and curling the ball past the hapless goalkeepers from the ‘del Piero Zone’ is sure to be a part of Juventus folklore for generations to come. Not that any of these seven remaining games- six in the Serie A and the Coppa Italia final would in any way affect Il Pinturicchio’s standing on the fans in the Curva Scirea or on the fans worldwide, but his recent form against direct rivals should warrant an extension if one deploys sane worldly logic, like the goal against Inter to seal the Derby d’Italia or the goal versus Milan to seal Coppa Italia progression and none more so than his performance against Lazio last gameweek. Each one of these contributions has been crucial in defining Juventus’ season this term.

The Legends: del Piero and Nedved.

It’s difficult to find words to describe Del Piero. He has been playing for Juve for about 20 years ‒ he is the history of this club.When anybody in the world says the word ‘Juve’, they have a picture of Del Piero in mind. I think that says it all.

-Pavel Nedved

Against Lazio, Juventus had earned a lion’s share of possession and had been the more dominant team on the pitch but the scoreline still read 1-1 as the Bianconeri seemed headed for another dreaded draw and that familiar sinking feeling. That, until Alessandro del Piero was brought in from the bench for his 700th appearance in the black-and-white of Juventus and in the cameo that he played, del Piero guided home a trademark freekick from just outside the area into the bottom left corner of the goal to break the stalemate and put the Bianconeri firmly in control of their own destiny of winning the Scudetto, what would be their first after the Calciopoli nightmare.

Il Capitano’s future has been in discussion among the Bianconeri faithful ever since Andrea Agnelli declared the news of this campaign being the last for del Piero, but never has there been a greater need of a contract extension for a Juventus player as there is now. Andrea Agnelli might bank on the ‘Agnelli’ in his surname or the presence of club favourite Antonio Conte as coach to evade the wrath of the fans if he does indeed gets rid of del Piero, but if performances were used as a retort, Agnelli is losing the battle and del Piero should be allowed to leave on his own terms in his own time and what is certain that that time is still a bit away as ADP continues to provide a fruitful contribution to Juventus.

That statement by Agnelli might have been a case of misplaced judgement and a too premature, and as the calls for the club to reconsider their decision regarding Alessandro del Piero grow louder, the very least the fans deserve is to know the reason as to why such a hasty announcement regarding del Piero was made in the first place. And even though, Beppe Marotta has refuted rumours about the signing of Milan duo of Clarence Seedorf and Alessandro Nesta in recent weeks but if at any point during the season these two were considered as potential signings despite being 36 years of age, why hasn’t del Piero figured in Agnelli and Marotta’s plans for next year?

I know him as a person and he is a great guy. He would still be very useful for Juventus, even if he doesn’t always play. The Juve directors have to understand that he still has plenty to offer.

-Luciano Moggi

It might be worth arguing that Alessandro del Piero might not be the same player that he was a decade ago, nor does he have the legs to play 90 minutes week in week out. But what he does have is the class that has helped him get at the very best defenders for the best part of two decades while playing for Juventus. Among a crop of profligate strikers, where none barring Matri are into double figures for the season, del Piero is that one impact player that can be effectively and efficiently used for making an impact by creating or scoring a goal late on in a game. His ability with the ball at his feet is what has still not been taken away from him despite his age, and that is exactly what Juve requires in the Scudetto run-in and would need in the Champions League next season, of which del Piero is a proven master.

 

As time passes by towards the start of next round of fixtures, the match between Juventus and Roma might be the last time that Francesco Totti and Alessandro del Piero, two galacticos of Italian football, are seen on the same pitch strutting their stuff, a shuddering thought for all concerned with the Calcio. As for Juventus and del Piero, come the end of the season they could well be lifting a famous double of the Scudetto and the Coppa Italia in seven games’ time, their first pieces of silverware since Calciopoli and should they look back, the man who turned the tide back in their favour was none other than their immortal hero Alessandro del Piero.

It would be del Piero who shall lift the trophies should they be won, and there would be no one who’d deserve to win it more than him for leading Juventus’ revival from the dark realms of the Calciopoli and the very least he deserves from the club’s hierarchy is to be allowed to retire on his own terms unlike other Calciopoli heroes- Cameronesi,Legrotagglie and Trezeguet who were all shunted out. Surely it’s time for Agnelli and the club to accept their mistake and let del Piero continue on his own terms for atleast another season.

The Indian connection in Norway: Harmeet Singh

Far away from the ‘land of the five rivers’ that is Punjab, a 20 year old boy from ethnic Punjabi background born and bred in the freezy territories of Oslo, is rising to the very perch of Norwegian football in the picturesque lands of the Valerenga neighborhood of Oslo. Harmeet Singh is the name and being a central midfielder is his trade. While Rosenborg still exert their dominant reputation on Norwegian football and while Ole Solskjaer’s Molde has actually run away with the Tippeligaen, Norway’s premier club competition, this Norwegian footballer has been creating waves not just across his ‘homeland’ but is also on the scouting agendas of some of the ‘bigger’ clubs in Europe.

Singh, alongside fellow countryman Mohammed Fellah and Havard Nielsen, have established themselves as the shining light of a club that for so long has been consigned into the shadows of Rosenborg in Norway, but a club that has now started to challenge for greater honours, Valerenga with Harmeet Singh in full flow finished 2nd in 2010 and are currently sixth with a game in hand, winning which they’d rise to 2nd again in the incumbent Tippeligaen season of 2011.
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January calling, so what do you need Juventus?

Not many Juventus fans even in their wildest of dreams foreseen the kind of impact Antonio Conte would have at Juventus, at the start of the season.  Cut over to the festive period and Juventus are in a dog fight not for Champions League places but in a race for the Scudetto, at joint top in the standings, still to lose a game in the league.

The summer gone by was a vital time for Juventus, for it was a club trying to get back to its lost glory and several names were brought in to begin afresh after the disappointments of the last couple of seasons, the likes of Stephan Lichtsteiner, Arturo Vidal, the play making genius Andrea Pirlo and none more important than Conte himself who vision for a Juventus of old is seemingly heading for fruition. However, with a few holes still to cover and the impending Financial Fair Play(FFP) regulations coming into effect next summer, January is going to be a busy period for the Bianconeri. So who could Juventus buy in January?

In the current Juventus setup, if there is one area of immediate concern for the club, it is the left back situation. Paolo de Ceglie doesn’t quite seem cut out for the role after having returned from his injury which has resulted in arguably Italy’s best centre half Giorgio Chiellini being played as a left back. Not that the system hasn’t worked, but playing your best defender out of his natural position is not a long term solution. Sevilla’s Martin Caceres is the odd’s on favourite to be brought in for the role, albeit on loan or a permanent deal,  for his second spell at the club. The Uruguayan’s previous spell was quite eventful and the ambidextrous fullback still enjoys popular support among the Juventus faithful and would be heartily welcomed back to put Juventus out of it’s left back paradox and as a valuable add on, he would also provide an alternative to Lichsteiner should the marauding Swiss fullback ever need a rest.

Could Caceres’ return resolve the fullback paradox?

Staying with the defensive side of things, another name linked with the Bianconeri lately has been that of German international center back Mats Hummels, not that Juventus urgently need a centre half, but Hummels could prove to be a vital cog in the Juventus machinery should Conte wish to predominantly use Chiellini as a leftback and not as a central figure in defence. Hummels has only recently stated his feeling of being honoured about Juventus’ interest in him. Should a move be made for the German, it would be a long term solution  but would come at quite a steep cost.

The cheaper alternatives to a potential center half signing would that of the Brazilian pair- Rhodolfo and Alex. The former was continually linked with Juve during the summer and is rated as one of the best center backs playing his trade in Brazil, while the latter is much more established in Europe and currently on the transfer list at Chelsea after having falling out with his manager Andre Villas-Boas and would certainly play no more part for the Londoners.

The need for a center back is not immediate and certainly is not a pressing concern for the Bianconeri but a cut price deal for Alex especially who is quite experienced in Europe could be in the offing and one that would provide a vital and experienced alternative in the Juventus backline as well as the room for maneuvering to Conte.

In central midfield, Juventus has some of the best players in all of Europe with summer signing of Andrea Pirlo proving to be a master stroke and fellow new arrival Arturo Vidal adding the much needed bite and tenacity to the midfield. To complete the trio, Claudio Marchisio has sounded his arrival as one of the best players in Italy. However, the situation around the backup of the trio is more dodgy, currently only Michele Pazienza and youngster Luca Marrone serve as back up and at a club where three in midfield is a norm an addition should be vital for a title push.

Time to get your big move Montolivo?

The rarely accurate and widely off the mark rumour mill has linked Juventus with two midfield players in particular – Angelo Palombo and Riccardo Montolivo. Both are quality and both would be heavily involved in the first team action should a move be made but one potential hinderence for Palombo could be his reluctance to leave Sampdoria. He stayed loyal to them despite relegation last season and a big bid and contract could be needed to turn his tide towards Turin.

Montolivo meanwhile is not only a more viable option but also a more long term one. The Italian international would be available on a free in the summer and with no maneuvering available to Fiorentina his price would be low. In midfield, Montolivo would be a good alternative to Pirlo with his passing range and would with equal ease fit alongside him and the quartet in midfield would essentially be base on which Juventus’ success shall be built.

And finally, in terms of the attacking options, this ‘mercato’ might finally see the end of the much derided Amauri in Turin and former Italian internationals Iaquinta and Luca Toni both seem headed for the exit door as well, while Quagliarella’s fate hangs in the balance. Quite naturally Juventus would be interested in acquiring reinforcements to shore up their attack. Man City’s Carlos Tevez was briefly linked and would have been a key mix of creativity and finishing ability to lead the Juventus attack but with  the Argentine seemingly headed rivals Milan, Juventus seem to have their sight set on Roma’s Marco Borriello. How Boriello would be an improvent over the current options at Juventus is baffling but as the reports suggest, he might be the closest to signing for Juventus.

The season has gone rather well for the Bianconeri thus far, better than what most would have imagined and a few key additions in the January mercato could help give Juventus the vital push towards elusive Scudetto.

Simon(e) says, get me some super Pepe!

The name? Simone Pepe. His game? One that is based on team work, using his bundles of energy, staggering  work rate and the never-say-die attitude than on flair, fancy footwork  that you’d associate with a run-of-the-mill winger in Europe’s current  footballing climate. It is these attributes that he possesses that has often made him the ‘Jack of all trades’ for Juventus and for the Azzurri, but at the same time, he’s been a ‘Master of none’ in the eyes  of most Bianconeri, well until this season started that is.

In what was a summer of radical change at Juventus that saw a former footballing hero Antonio Conte take charge at his old stomping ground in Turin and with him began a new era of trying to return Juventus to her former glory. Pepe was signed permanently for €7.5 million as a part of that plan, something that was met with derision among Juventus fans and out rightly ridiculed by some rivals for paying too much for a player that seemed far from the quality desired in a Juventus winger, while some others saw him as a potential bargain tool to get a world class player to Turin. However neither of the two scenario’s have come to fruition though as Pepe has gone on and established himself as a vital cog in Conte’s Juventus.

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Football Matters Part II: Beyond the pale, the money game and the mercenaries

Author’s Note: This is the second installment of the ‘Football Matters’ series, you can read the first part ‘Two colors inside and the divisions outside’ here.

Football and mercenaries, two terms that sound unrelated and should actually be unrelated, but aren’t. The ever increasing money revolution across various parts of Europe that has seen more and more clubs being taken over by business oligarchs has seen modern football take a new meaning, where money defines how it’s run, not as a sport but more as a business.

There are two iterations valid in most cases today: Footballers = mercenaries or mercenaries = footballers, in either case money is the common denominator, not loyalty or love for the game or the club you play for. There was a time, not too long ago, when loyal and one-club men used to dominate Football all around the world. Longevity used to be a factor and the players would love to play it out at the club they loved, to be called legends at the club which to them was be-all and end-all, for money wasn’t as important as staying true to your roots and staying with the club that you’ve loved all so much, for they were as much a part of a club’s legacy as the club was definitive in making their own identity.

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Football Matters Part I: Two colors inside and the divisions outside

Football matters, indeed it does, to you, to me and to millions of other fans around the world and to the players who play it day in day out. And what’s also certain is that there are football matters that continue to haunt the very basis of modern football, none more so than the one in question here.

Football, without doubt, is the most watched and followed around sport in the world in this day and age. There are kids around the world who would sacrifice their studies just to have a few extra hours of playing it and then there would be ‘adults’ who would refuse to get going with their normal lives should their favorite team lose a match. Yup, football is a common denominator that strings millions of distinct individuals from around the world. For some it’s passion to be following the sport, for some others it is a religion that they live by and for a distinct few it is a matter of even more- for whom football is a feeling that can’t be explained but they spend their lives explaining it.

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David de Gea: Oh he’s gotten United with life in Manchester lately

Last season’s end brought to an end the career of one of the best goalkeepers in United’s history, van der Sar went away to cool his heels in the calm realms of the Netherlands, away from the scrutiny of the Premier League. In his place, anointed was a young Spanish prodigy with limited match experience and whose age was only as much as the number of years that his predecessor had spent at the top level in European football.

The task while being obviously difficult in itself trying to follow up a legendary figure like van der Sar in the club’s history was added to by the unmatched hype and the continuous, and at most times, unwarranted scrutiny from sections of the media for both his on field and off field behaviour. The question of whether Manchester United goalie David De Gea was good enough, at the start of the season divided opinion due to some high profile gaffes that United hadn’t been accustomed to in the seasons gone by.

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Fergie at 25: A journey of belief, character and the hairdryer!

A quarter of a century, a mighty long time period by any scale or measure that humans would ever design. Back then it was a sorry story for the club from Manchester that Sir Alex was going to correct. Back in those days Liverpool FC were the undisputed top dogs of English football and the only one’s who could challenge them were rivals Everton, a totalitarian Merseyside affair. Footballing success at the time looked tough for Sir Alex and United, never mind success in Europe or achieving knighthood for footballing affairs.

Fast forward to the present day, 25 years gone by, Man Utd are undeniably the most successful club in the land, arguably the most supported club in the world and one of the world’s most valuable ‘brands’. And how times change, the real contenders for United are their city rivals Man City while the Merseysiders settle for lesser matters.

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Campeones Ole Ole Ole: Solskjaer in a new footballing Molde

The baby faced assassin they call him, a poacher was what they saw in him as a player, loyalty and selflessness is what characterized him and a Man United legend is what he shall always be.  Solskjaer had a long and successful spell at United winning a plethora of trophies and giving the fans a horde of unforgettable moments. Ole Solskjaer undeniably would forever be a part of United folklore, for he was the man who scored the winner on that epic night at the Camp Nou as Man Utd scripted perhaps the most unlikely comeback ever seen in modern football.

That night has since defined how Solskjaer would remembered at United, perhaps unfairly, because that one goal has overshadowed pretty much all else he did in the United shirt. It was a long and romantic playing journey that he had with the club but one cold night it ended, Ole finally surrendered to his crocked knee and his time at United was up, the era of Ole super show had ended at the Theatre of Dreams. “I can’t play any more” he said to Sir Alex but the wily Scot wasn’t letting go of his pupil so easily,  “Don’t worry, you were fantastic, you had a great career, why don’t you join my coaching staff?” the Scot retorted. Ole had been appointed as a part of Sir Alex’s staff merely seconds after his intention to retire was made known to Fergie. A new era for Solskjaer was about to dawn…

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