In 2010, watch out for Spain, Germany
Sunday's final had enough pointers to why Germany and Spain should be among our favourite teams in the World Cup at South Africa. Dhiman Sarkar reports. The Spanish victorysports Updated: Jun 30, 2008 23:52 IST
Given that sport is real time in fast forward, a lot of things can change between now and 2010. Seismic upheavals notwithstanding, Sunday's final had enough pointers to why Germany and Spain should be among our favourite teams when the football world comes together in South Africa.
That's not how it's always been though. Only France (1998 and Euro 2000) and West Germany (1972 and 74 European Championships) have successfully straddled the two-year cycle between football's biggest and its most competitive tournaments. Since 1991, the Copa America has been mostly shared by Brazil and Argentina and given Africa and Asia's standing in the world game, the other continental championships do not really count. In that sense, the European championships are unique.
Now about Spain and Germany. There was no doubting who was the better team in Vienna last night. Everything came together for the side Luis Aragones has been building since 2004 this time in the way it never had. Not known for the mental resilience, they had a decent group. Spain knew, if they didn't fluff their lines big time (okay, we all know how spectacularly they can do that), a berth in the knockout round was theirs for the taking.
For all the clamour about his exclusion, Aragones wasn't taking a huge risk by leaving out Raul. More than half the side Spain brought to this competition hadn't played in the 2006 World Cup finals. Yet the stellar contributors to their brilliant team game - Casillas, Fabregas, Iniesta, Senna, Alonso, Ramos, Puyol, Marchena and Villa - were all part of the squad that got knocked out by France in 2006. Wiser for the experience. Two years later, Puyol will be 32, Marchena 31. At 34, Senna may not be there but the rest will below 30 and full of enthusiasm having already shed their tag of underachievers.
Ditto Germany. Fourteen in Joachim Loew's squad were part of the process set going by Juergen Klinsmann in the same year that Aragones took charge. Loew has two years to find a new goalkeeper but his biggest worry could be to get someone playing the role of Michael Ballack. The German captain would be 34 by the time South Africa comes around and even if he still has the vision and leadership skills, he may not have the legs. Torsten Frings too would be Ballack's age and so both the skipper "and his bodyguard", as Frings once described his role, may have to go.
Between the two, therefore, it's disadvantage Germany though only just. That's because Schweinsteiger, into his third World Cup, would still be only 26, Lahm 27 and Hitzlsperger 27. Having been part of a World Cup third-place squad and one that finished second best in a Euro, they should be primed for the big-stage. And if Loew persists with the central defensive pairing of Mertesacker and Metzelder, it would be their third major competition at a combined age of 56.
Also, while Spain will have to adjust to life under a new coach — never easy as the Donadoni experience showed — Loew will stay. Which effectively would mean a six-year continuity in terms of strategy for it is well known that Loew provided the tactical nous to the team Klinsmann inspired to a dream run.