Germany's unusual 11 against Portugal have delivered: with four center-backs, the best wide defender on earth playing in midfield, and no striker. As the experiment was such a resounding success, must it now continue?
How do you follow the perfect start? Germany coach Joachim Löw and the Netherlands' Louis van Gaal currently share this quandary. Arjen Robben put it best after shocking Spain: "We've not won anything yet."
The first German test of the World Cup, a game billed as a worthy final against a Portugal side ranked fourth in the world, endedin a 4-0 rout on Monday
. Thomas Müller and Mats Hummels had likely done enough damage already when Portuguese defender Pepe decided to seal his own team's fate through a lack of discipline before the break.
"We know how well we can play, but there are so many factors involved," captain Philipp Lahm said afterwards. "Today even our attacking trio worked exceptionally well. This is a great win, but we're not there yet."
Joachim Löw's selection on the night worked wonders. Thomas Müller, playing as a "false nine,"looked like the real deal at the tip of the German spear
- netting three goals. Toni Kroos concentrated on directing the play - and covering more ground than any of his teammates - with Sami Khedira and Philipp Lahm closing up the center behind him. On the wings, Mario Götze was industrious and Mesut Özil showed a few flashes despite continuing his rather flat run of form.
Going big at the back
Yet behind these six attackers, Joachim Löw started a back four very few would have anticipated back in March or April - with two surprises on either flank. This defense had only played together once before the World Cup, at the very last chance to experiment in the friendly thrashing of lowly Armenia.
Placing the defensive-minded Jerome Boateng and Benedikt Höwedes on the right and left of defense, respectively, might have had the Portuguese team specifically in mind. Dangerous winger Nani and the most lethal of them all, Cristiano Ronaldo, had out-and-out central defenders hounding them on either flank; while string-puller Joao Moutinho was accompanied by Philipp Lahm in midfield for much of the match.
This stifling strategy seemed successful even before Portugal went down to 10 men, neutering an already impotent attack. After a Thomas Müller hat trick, Löw's first comments concerned the demolition job against one of the World Cup's better attacking outfits.
"The team was incredibly compact; we scarcely permitted any counters. Then we went forward with pace," Löw said on ARD television after the game. "The second half was a rather different game. By then, it was all about keeping the ball and occasionally countering quickly. Boateng was outstanding against Ronaldo."
So what's the problem, you ask? Well, can Löw now change his winning team? Would he prefer Erik Durm's pace on the left flank against Ghana or the US? Is Lahm still first choice at right-back in a final against Neymar on the left side of a Brazilian attack? Does Bastian Schweinsteiger still have a home in the middle of the park? And will Mioslav Klose get a chance to break Ronaldo's all-time World Cup goals record before young Thomas Müller leapfrogs the lot of them?
Löw keen on continuity
Joachim Löw said ahead of the tournament that he did not believe heavy rotation was a realistic option, even considering Brazil's climate and the wealth of options at Germany's disposal. After the criticism he received for his Toni Kroos experiment against Italy two years ago, this reticence is perhaps understandable.
"As a point of principle, I would not rotate in the knockout phases," Löw told kicker magazine before the World Cup. "It's only really possible in the third group game, and only if you're already through - which I do not necessarily expect for this World Cup."
Germany can now hope for early qualification from their group, only Ghana and Kevin-Prince Boateng stand in the way. Fans can enjoy a glorious World Cup opening after all the negative headlines during preparations:Marco Reus' injury
; the slow recoveries of Lahm, Schweinsteiger, and Neuer; the lack of firepower up front without Mario Gomez at a major competition; PR event accidents and drunken shenanigans at the team hotel.
But for Löw, some headaches accompany this opening-day dose of relief. With 12 more players waiting in the wings, has his starting 11 been set in stone by virtue of Monday's performance in Salvador? You change a winning tournament team at your peril, after all.
But let's say the same 11, in the same shape, were to falter in the quarter-final: Would German fans really be satisfied that their best team had lost playing their ideal style?