Winning with kids
Germany's 3-2 friendly win against Brazil on Wednesday was televised in 190 countries around the world, and international viewers were treated to a classic five-goal second half - and a sneak preview of the future of the German national team.
Joachim Löw's side went into the friendly match in Stuttgart on an eighteen-year losing streak against Brazil - including a defeat in the 2002 World Cup final - having only beaten the South Americans three times in a total of 20 meetings. The German coach opted to tackle this troubled past using his stars of the future, and to say they repaid his faith is an understatement.
"I am personally pleased that I have so many options now," German coach Löw said after a game that must leave him scratching his head about future selection, and perhaps wishing soccer permitted 14-player teams.
Teenager Mario Götze shone just as brightly as he does in Borussia Dortmund's yellow jerseys, scoring Germany's second goal and providing the wow-factor in midfield in Mesut Özil's absence. Toni Kroos marshaled the middle of the park very ably in Sami Khedira's stead, and won the penalty that led to Germany's opening goal. Winger Andre Schürrle replaced a typically invisible Lukas Podolski at half-time and later scored Germany's third and final goal of the night.
Götze's first goal for his country, and his performance throughout prior to being subbed out with moments to go, helped cement the Dortmund prodigy's growing reputation as Germany's "next big thing." The youngster was briefly the top trending topic on Twitter in Germany after the game.
"I enjoyed every minute of it and it was great to win. The team played well and helped me a lot. I am just happy," Götze told reporters shortly after the match. Götze's Dortmund teammates have taken to calling the fluid midfielder Götzinho, in reference to his remarkable technical ability and ball control, and it did look rather like the youngster had been poached from the Brazilian ranks shortly before kick-off.
"He has unique skill. He always finds a solution on the pitch," Löw said of the 19-year-old star, also praising his physical fitness and aggression, a side of the diminutive player's game that is easily overlooked. "It's the simple things he does that make him so strong."
Götze, however, might struggle to secure a regular spot in the starting 11, considering that he is effectively in direct competition with Real Madrid star Mesut Özil - arguably the revelation of last year's World Cup - for a spot in attacking midfield. Still, his performance against Brazil argued strongly in his favor, and Götze wasn't the only member of Löw's relatively experimental 11 to raise some questions about Germany's established pecking order.
Versatile Kroos sets sights on Khedira
Bayern Munich's Toni Kroos was a somewhat quieter but no less worthy candidate for the man-of-the-match accolade on Wednesday night. Kroos played alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger in a more defensive midfield role, enjoying lots of possession, commanding Germany's set pieces throughout the game, winning a penalty, and setting up Götze's goal with a crisp pass through the heart of the Brazilian back line.
Joachim Löw also raved about Kroos' performance after the match, reserving particular praise for the midfielder's ability to read the game and time his forward runs to maximize their impact. Löw attributed this ability to Germany winning the penalty with which they opened the scoring on the hour-mark. That penalty set up a frenetic five-goal final third of the match.
It's perhaps noteworthy that Löw chose to highlight the offensive impact that the all-purpose Bayern midfielder can have, considering that this is the aspect missing from the game of Germany's regular holding midfielder Sami Khedira. Though the strategically strong Khedira is a clever passer and tenacious tackler, he can't pull the strings quite like Kroos can.
Schürrle showed up, unlike Poldi
One German mainstay who was not excluded from the starting 11 was Cologne's former captain and media darling Lukas Podolski. But the disgruntled Prince Poldi, following a lackluster performance for his new club coach, Stale Solbakken, in the opening Bundesliga game of the season, did not hesitate to waste his chance.
Poldi was subbed out at half-time after failing to make any meaningful inroads on the left flank in the first period - though it must be said that the first half was a more generally stale affair than the goal-happy second. One scuffed shot from distance, when Poldi had characteristically chosen to ignore several promising passing options, was perhaps his most notable moment in the match.
Twenty-year-old Andre Schürrle, the man who helped Mainz into European football on loan last season and is now looking to settle into Bayer Leverkusen's starting 11, replaced Podolski and scored Germany's third and ultimately decisive goal - netting for the second time in just five international appearances. His emphatic finish, enabled by fellow goal-scorer Bastian Schweinsteiger's never-say-die approach, provided a third goal and perhaps a third major selection headache for coach Joachim Löw in the middle of the park.
Throughout Podolski's somewhat patchy club career, Löw has always stayed true to the attacker. Podolski in turn has delivered 42 goals in 89 appearances for Germany, a strike rate that dwarves his career tally in the Bundesliga. Now though, Schürrle's meteoric rise over the past 18 months may represent the first truly credible threat to "Prince Poldi's" seven-year tenure as a regular in the German front line.
Clearly Löw's embarrassment of midfield riches is not something that should really elicit any particular pity - as "problems" go, it's a pleasant one - but the German coach must be wondering just who he will turn to when Germany seek to topple Spain at Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine next summer.
Author: Mark Hallam
Editor: Holly Fox