It sees rather surprising that Miroslav Klose hardly ever finds a mention among the great German footballers. Despite his incredible goal-scoring exploits, he's considered just a poacher who found himself at the right place at the right time. Probably, he's held in much higher regard within the German football establishment. But if he is not, they need to look no further than him to understand their problems.
Goals are overrated but goal scorers are not. They are the ones that make the decisive contribution. In an age where technically proficient passers are fetishised, it's perhaps of little surprise that world class finishers are increasingly a rare commodity in elite football. Barcelona's hallowed front three are all South American, a crucial advantage when your biggest rivals can only field one, or at most two. Germany is feeling this pinch now.
It was the absence of a proper number nine that hurt Joachim Löew's side against Poland, in their second Group B match that finished goalless. While four points should be enough to progress to the knock-out rounds, a catastrophic performance against Northern Ireland in the final group match would again prove there are issues that need urgent resolution.
In decisive moments, Mario Götze is unlikely to provide an answer in his false nine role. It's not just to do with Götze’s decline in quality over the past two years; he does not respond to the ball instinctively as a striker. His relatively short stature ensures he's not much of a threat in the air either. Considering these limitations, it's baffling that Germany still sent in no less than 16 crosses in the 66 minutes he spent on the pitch. Knowing that their opponent could not hurt them much from the flanks, the Poles were happy to deal with the aerial balls. However, the ineffectiveness of Plan A was a significant issue as well.
Toni Kroos, and not Mesut Özil, is the primary playmaker within the side. But Kroos' biggest strength is ball circulation and not providing defence-splitting passes. Özil would be adept at doing that, but Thomas Müller and Julian Draxler have rarely made angled runs into the box for any possible through balls Özil sends in. No wonder then, that of the 182 passes completed by Germany in the final third on Thursday, only 11 entered Poland's penalty area.
The last time these sides met in this competition, in 2008, Lukas Podolski's brace was good enough for a 2-0 win. The lack of a natural striker or a direct runner, though, ensured that Germany hardly came close to scoring this time. To be fair to Löew, he did respond to the situation by introducing Andre Schürrle and Mario Gomez midway through the second half. Although Schürrle made a few incisive runs towards the Polish defence, there was little incentive for Germany to risk the draw. The competition format brought complacency and both sides seemed to be pleased to take a point.
In fact, it was Poland who came closest to scoring its first ever goal against Germany at a major tournament. Robert Lewandowski and Arkadiusz Milik frequently asked questions of the German centre-backs while Kamil Grosicki's direct running posed a constant threat. Furthermore, Grzegorz Krychowiak ran the game for the Poles from the midfield with his box-to-box runs and clean interceptions.
Löew's decision to include Mats Hummels, following his return from injury, in Shkodran Mustafi's place was also a brave one. The Bayern Munich-bound defender looked off-pace in the opening quarter. A few misplaced passes initially brought insecurity, but Hummels grew in confidence as the match progressed. It probably helped that he played alongside Jerome Boateng, who made his customary excellent contribution to the match with a crunching tackle on Lewandowski when the Pole seemed set to score.
Poland will regret the missed opportunities that could have provided the team only its second victory ever over Germany in 21 attempts. The problems for the world champions particularly arose when Kroos and Sami Khedira pushed forward together to leave a lot of space between them and the centre-backs. It did not help matters that full-backs Jonas Hector and Benedikt Höwedes tend to position themselves high on the wings as well. There was an accident that could have befallen Germany, but Löew's side escaped. However, Sami Khedira was forced into a desperate tackle that earned him a booking in only the third minute.
It was an issue that had been apparent in the opening game against Ukraine too. And that was not the only common theme. Like in their meeting with Ukraine, Germany's intensity dropped considerably after the first 20 minutes. While a fortunate goal had given the Germans the lead in the tournament opener, all their possession and half-chances brought nothing on Thursday.
Seconds after Milik had missed a sitter early in the second half, Götze found himself with a good opportunity in the box to put the shot away into the corner from a comfortable angle. However, the strike was tamely hit to the 'keeper. Germany's problems were summed up in that one moment. As someone cheekily mentioned on Twitter, the one man who could help Germany was born in Poland — Klose.
An absence of a calm finisher like him meant Germany had to be satisfied with a point. It will do for now, but in the coming games, Löew needs to ensure his players put the ball away in the right place. He knows a thing or two about that.
Published Date: Jun 17, 2016 09:06 am | Updated Date: Jun 17, 2016 09:06 am