Germany’s path to the third-place playoff was altogether less controversial, dotted as it was with sumptuous performances in knocking out both England and Argentina, before running headlong into an unstoppable Spain. The semi-final with the Iberians proved to be a game too far for Low’s mix of youngsters and young veterans, but with Thomas Muller restored the right flank at least Die Mannschaft ensured they did not go home empty handed, although there may be an empty feeling that their medals are bronze, not gold. The majority of these players will get the chance to put that perceived injustice right in four years time, most likely with Low still in charge as a new contract for the 50-year-old appears imminent, despite Low’s comments on this team progressing over the next few years “regardless of who is in charge.” The current Coach is correct to say the development of the young tyros who have shined in South Africa will continue whoever leads the national team, but the interests of Germany’s future ambitions would be best served with the continuity of Low and his staff remaining in charge.
When examining quite why Germany had to settle for bronze and not gold, it is hard to point the finger of blame in any direction. There is no shame in losing to Spain, certainly not given the way Vicente Del Bosque’s men played in the second-half of their engaging semi-final. Perhaps if Muller had been available Germany would have carried greater threat going forward but Spain were irresistible, much as Germany had been themselves on more than one occasion. Third place for a side that, before the World Cup began, was not considered amongst the favourites is some achievement, and the way in which that stage was reached is even more remarkable The optimism Low’s charges have generated back home was perfectly captured by the Coach when he spoke after defeating Uruguay. He said: “We’re going home with a very good feeling. Altogether, what we’ve achieved, we never would have expected it eight or nine months ago.” The notion of putting so much faith in such a young crop of players is alien to many countries, most notably England, who were ravaged in the European U-21 Champions last year by many of the same players who put them out of this year’s World Cup. There were no major tactical blunders by Low, no glaring selection errors, no controversial moments at all from the former Fenerbahce boss. Low led Germany intelligently and far from being written off ahead of a tournament as Germany often are, when the 2012 European Championships begin Germany will be right there with Spain as favourites.
After assisting in Germany’s third place on home soil in 2006, and reaching the final of the European Championships 2008 where they again lost to Spain, the early signs this time around were positive for Low’s chances of going all the way, at least once the football began. Prior to taking on Australia in their first group game, Germany’s preparations for the tournament were severely and constantly hampered by injury, the loss of Rene Adler just after he was confirmed as Low’s first-choice goalkeeper and captain Michael Ballack in the FA Cup Final the most damaging, or so it seemed at the time. In the end, those who stepped in for Adler and Ballack, Manuel Neuer and third-play playoff hero Khedira, were amongst Germany’s most impressive performers. Schalke 04’s Neuer conceded just two goals before being rested for the Uruguay game while Khedira was an athletic and skilful presence in the heart of midfield, a fine compliment to the cultured probing of Bastian Schweinsteiger. With Muller, Mesut Ozil and Jerome Boateng joining Khedira, Neuer and Adler as bright hopes for the future and the likes of Schweinsteiger, Lukas Podolski, Per Mertesacker and Philipp Lahm having upwards of 50 caps – and in some cases, nearly 100 – the blend of youthful energy and experience that drove Germany to third place shows no sign of fading.