Heart Of Football

Far-sighted Germany deserve to lap up talent pool

Tonight's final of the Confederations Cup in St Petersburg represents on paper the best teams in South America and Europe.

On paper.

Chile field their strongest side, more or less the starting Xl that won back-to-back Copa America finals against Argentina, Leo Messi and all.

Germany, in contrast, left the majority of their World Cup-winning squad at home and are fielding what Germans themselves refer to as a cross between second- and third-best players at Joachim Low's disposal.

If you took Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal out of Chile, the rest would struggle, mightily. Indeed, they have reached this final in the Krestovsky Stadium by dint of three draws and one win in four games.

And as much as goalkeeper Claudio Bravo is lampooned at Manchester City, his string of three penalty saves in the semi-final against Portugal almost single-handedly was responsible for Chile being in this final.

That's a little harsh because it wasn't Bravo alone who tied up Cristiano Ronaldo and the Portuguese in the semi-final that went goalless before the shootout.

The conveyor belt must bulge with more bright sparks than any other nation on earth.

It is systematic. Even before the 2006 World Cup, Low had worked for two years as assistant to Jurgen Klinsmann with the idea of forging a team based on youth. 

Chile's organisation, their high pressure game, suffocated Ronaldo here as they did Messi in 2015 and last year. No man rests on his laurels - not Sanchez and not Vidal. They are tigers chasing down everything.

Earlier in this tournament, they ground out a 1-1 draw against Germany in the group phase. But that was the second game this group of Germans had together. They are growing together, as Germans do regardless of who they are or who the opposition are.

"The boys had 10 days or so in training as a team," Low said. "We are a work in progress. Some concepts we had already assimilated, others will come in time."

Quicker, it seems, than Herr Low dared to envisage.

When he named his squad, it omitted Manuel Neuer, Mesut Ozil, Mats Hummels, Thomas Muller, Jerome Boating, Toni Kroos, Marco Reus, all rested or injured.

Others, including the exciting Manchester City winger Leroy Sane and Mario Gotze and Julian Weigl cried off injured.

And yet more Germans were playing in the European Under-21 final against Spain last night.

So if the selection Germany is fielding in the Confederations Cup is described by trainer Low as boys, what does that make the U-21 squad? The conveyor belt must bulge with more bright sparks than any other nation on earth.

It is systematic. Even before the 2006 World Cup, Low had worked for two years as assistant to Jurgen Klinsmann with the idea of forging a team based on youth. They hosted, but could not win that Cup, but the seeds were there to carry on and build up the structure that won the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Low, now 57, enjoys something precious and privileged. He works for the German Football Association, but the clubs in Germany work assiduously to help the national team, Die Mannschaft.

That, as we are seeing, is not one team. It is a whole school of them.

How mistaken was Alexey Sorokin, head of the Russian World Cup organising committee, when he looked at the German squad sheet and lamented:

"The heart of a football fan bleeds when the reigning World Cup winner plays without stars. They are the reason the fans attend matches."

Low replied with measured reason.

"Those players who played so many games," he said, "reach their limit at some point. I can understand the hosts Russia have different expectations. But they will see the stars next summer."

Maybe sooner than expected. Germany arrived in this rehearsal without 10 players who have played 50 or more times for the national side. Most, you imagine, will be on duty at the real thing.

But while they rest, the replacements grow.

Timo Werner, the central striker of Leipzig, is 21 and looks the predatory scorer that Germany has lacked since Miroslav Klose retired after 2014. Simple, swift to shoot or head, is Werner's method.

And if he doesn't score, Leon Goretzka will, as he demonstrated with his two low, instinctive strikes that shattered Mexico within eight minutes of the semi-final starting.

Goretzka is 22, and five years on from when his club coach at Bochum described him as a once-in-a-lifetime talent.

Much the same, much more often, has been said of Julian Draxler. Now 23, and of Paris Saint-Germain, Draxler has more than his sublime tricks that are pleasing on the eye.

Low trusts him as the playmaker, and a captain of Germany in the making. He has to be free, Low said of Draxler right at the start of the Confederations Cup.

Free to express himself. Free to carry the captaincy. Free to make the organiser Sorokin perhaps eat his words, or at least acknowledge that, in Draxler, Germany has a Bobby Dazzler that any nation might covet.

The Russians, alas, have no such prospect. Or none that we have seen. The stadium where tonight's final will be played was not remotely full for the opening game.

It was to be Russia's only victory, 2-0 against New Zealand. After that, Russia sank without a memory, going down to Portugal and Mexico in the group stage.

The apathy of a host nation, its fans not willing to pay the equivalent of S$23 for a ticket in a brand new near S$2 billion stadium, was a reflection on their own lack of expectation.

Tonight they have the opportunity to see established stars, like Sanchez and Vidal, but also Eduardo Vargas and Gary Medel, pit all their experience against a German team that is growing possibly faster than even Low expected.

"This team," he said after the semi-final, "has turned into a real unit very quickly. They deserve their place in the final."

Speaking of finals, Germany beat Spain 1-0 in the U-21 event in Krakow, Poland. The scorer with a looping header was Hertha Berlin winger Mitchell-Elijah Weiser.

He, possibly, might be something like 70th in line for a place in the World Cup squad for next summer.

The conveyor belt must bulge with more bright sparks than any other nation on earth.

It is systematic. Even before the 2006 World Cup, Low had worked for two years as assistant to Jurgen Klinsmann with the idea of forging a team based on youth. 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 02, 2017, with the headline 'Far-sighted Germany deserve to lap up talent pool'. Print Edition | Subscribe