Friday, 27 June 2008

Shattered Myths and Silenced Pundits

Having overcome a tenacious Turkish effort to progress to the final of Euro 2008, Germany’s pulsating 3-2 success belied the sombre mood in the Match of the Day studio, which suggested the win was a dull miscarriage of justice. “Lucky, lucky Germany?” Gary Lineker lazily asked a typically uninspiring Alan Shearer, whose response was myopic and cliché-ridden, “Aye, they’re a very average side... at the end of the day, they’ve just done enough.”

At times, Shearer contradicted himself as he confused the tired, now unfounded, notion that German success is traditionally a product of “good, solid organisation” at the back, with his belief that this current crop were a “very poor” defensive outfit. Yet, despite the evident difference between the two thoughts, the former beneficiary of defensive mishaps seemed to believe that this ‘shambles’ of a team was actually a perfect example of a structured German fluke. Undermined by his own paradoxical analysis, Shearer was seemingly blind to see that, despite their defensive misgivings, Germany had stormed to victory in a five-goal thriller for the second time in a week.

Clearly rattled by the early Turkish onslaught, it was a joy to see Germany respond with a fine counter-attacking goal, almost a carbon copy of their clinical opener against Portugal. As Bastian Schweinsteiger deftly turned the ball beyond Rustu’s grasp, here were the “average” side shattering their dour reputation with some über-thrilling football. Furthermore, Philipp Lahm’s excellent late strike, just one of this tournament’s many memorable German goals, gave the match a fittingly explosive climax.

Bold and direct, Turkey gave their illustrious opponents a thorough, sometimes torrid, examination. Colin Kazim-Richards (whose full name, the BBC would have you believe, is ‘Colin Kazim-Richards-Formerly-of-Bury-Brighton-and-Sheffield-United’) was a particular thorn in Germany’s side. The forward’s incessantly-mentioned English background is just one example of the shameless way in which the BBC’s patronising coverage hasn’t allowed a single match to pass without a British reference.

Whether it has been “Kuyt of Liverpool” giving Holland the lead against France, or “Andreas ‘The Austrian David Beckham’ Ivanschitz” spraying the ball profligately, John Motson has found countless opportunities to yelp with delight about this competition’s increasingly tenuous connections to Dear Old Blighty. Did you, by any chance, know that Italian midfielder Simone Perrotta was born in Ashton-under-Lyne, the very same birthplace as Geoff Hurst? Yes we did, John – you told us four minutes ago.

The verve of Turkey’s performance should not diminish the excellence of Germany’s march to the final. Vivacious in their dispatching of Poland and driven as they prospered in a tense encounter with arch-rivals Austria, their progress in the group stages was both entertaining and testament to their unyielding passion. Moreover, their high-octane 3-2 victory over Portugal was the pick of the quarter-finals, and their semi-final triumph of the same score line demonstrated how the Germans have produced some of Euro 2008’s most exhilarating moments.

Firing them forward has been the front four of Podolski, Ballack, Schweinsteiger and Klose, the attacking nucleus of an enterprising side. Boasting nine goals between them, the quartet have combined to devastating effect, with Ballack, in particular, imperiously dictating proceedings. The 2006 World Cup laid a foundation for such entertainment, as Jurgen Klinsmann’s semi-finalists notched eleven goals in their first four matches. At the time of writing, only Spain have scored more goals (11 to their 10) during this tournament, which offers further evidence to disprove the stale concept that Germany can only grind out narrow wins, dependant on their so-called miserly and rigid defence.

Contrary to popular (or punditry) belief, such exciting talent is neither new nor revelatory for a country that has produced some of the game’s most mesmerising stars, like Günter Netzer and Bernd Schuster. If only to silence dubiously tanned doubters, come Sunday evening, this year’s vintage can hopefully serve up another spectacle and join the illustrious line of German greats.