Quite how Carles Puyol was allowed to stride from the edge of the penalty area unmarked to connect with Xavi Hernandez’s corner and power a header past Manuel Neuer is something for Coach Joachim Low and his staff to answer. But for that one lapse – either in individual marking or a collective organisational failure – Germany’s flowing football seen against Australia, England and Argentina could have been rewarded with a place in the weekend’s showpiece. What Germany are left with is the knowledge they were the most entertaining nation seen in South Africa, a scintillating generation of young players and a sterling group of young veterans, all of whom will be still ready to contribute when Brazil 2014 rolls around. And regardless of the result against Spain, and the outcome of the third-place play-off, Germany’s future has not been harmed nor helped. Mesut Ozil is still one of the most promising players of his generation, and Ozil, Neuer, Thomas Muller and Sami Khedira should all look forward to plenty more momentous occasions in their future.
Germany now have the opportunity to clinch the least-wanted prize of any World Cup, the position of third place. After electrifying the competition’s early rounds, Germany’s players may struggle to motivate themselves for the meeting with Uruguay, for a bronze medal at the World Cup is scant consolation when you have been in such impressive form, but it would be worse for the players to go home with nothing tangible to their name. As warm as the praise they have received may be, a third-place gong will mean a lot more when this World Cup is but a distant memory at the end of long, storied careers but against a Uruguay team that could never have expected to be at this stage, and so will be free to play without the disappointment of missing out on the final. With Luis Suarez to return, La Celeste will bring added firepower to Port Elizabeth than they took to the semi-final with the Netherlands, but if Germany can recover from the despair of losing to Spain in enough time, the South Americans should not pose too much of a threat to Germany. Indeed, the only times Low’s team have been disconcerted came when down to 10 men against Serbia and the second-half of the Spanish game.
After containing Spain for much of the first-half, barring the odd half chance, and still occasionally threatening themselves, Germany could not cope with Spain’s increased tempo after the break. With Barcelona’s Pedro grabbing the chance given to him by Vicente Del Bosque with both hands and being a constant thorn in Germany’s side from all over the pitch, there were moments when it seemed just a matter of time before Spain took the lead. It was the 22-year-old who gave Spain the impetus they had lacked earlier in the competition, and as Spain starved Germany of the ball and pressured greatly whenever a white shirt had possession, Germany’s danger men were robbed of their impact. Ozil was left isolated from his teammates too often while Bastian Schweinsteiger could not find the time or space to orchestrate from deep. Piotr Trochowski did not provide the same threat as the suspended Thomas Muller from the right wing, Lukas Podolski spent more time tracking the runs of Sergio Ramos and Miroslav Klose barely got a sniff of the goal that would bring him level with Ronaldo in the all-time list of World Cup goal scorers.
Klose will get another chance to match – or better – the former Inter forward in the third-place play-off, particularly since, at 32, it is unlikely the Bayern Munich striker will travel to Brazil in four years and it would be somewhat heartless of Low to drop the 101-cap player for what will surely be his last World Cup game. Given the preponderance of young talent at Germany’s disposal, Low – or whoever replaces the 50-year-old should his contract situation not be resolved – will have plenty of young, attacking options to choose from, and the faith in the new generation may be the greatest legacy of Germany’s World Cup.