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'Tournament team' Germany ready to win again

England striker Gary Lineker once joked: "Football is a simple game 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans win", but why do Germany always seem to prosper at the World Cup?

sports Updated: Jul 06, 2010 16:28 IST

England striker Gary Lineker once joked: "Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans win", but why do Germany always seem to prosper at the World Cup?

Spain will be hoping Germany fail to live up to Lineker's quip on Wednesday's World Cup semi-final in Durban.

However, the facts speak for themselves Germany has won the World Cup three times (1954, 1974 and 1990), have contested seven finals and finished third three times.

They have reached the last eight at 14 of the 18 World Cup finals they have contested as they were excluded from the 1950 edition following World War II.

Having lost in the 1982 and 1986 finals, they made it third time lucky in terms of successive finals by beating Argentina 1-0 in 1990 and cap their golden era.

They exited at the quarter-finals of the 1994 and 1998 editions, but reached the final in 2002 and came third as hosts in 2006.

While Portugal, England, France, Italy, Argentina and Brazil all exited before the quarter-finals were over here, a young German squad (the average age is just under 25) has brushed off key injuries to reach the semi-finals.

"We're just a compact unit and have proved again that Germany is a tournament team'," said striker Miroslav Klose.

"I think it's all down to a certain quality, it's crucial to have self belief and present yourself as a true team on the pitch."

Klose is a good example of a player who has saved himself for the World Cup.

Having mostly warmed Bayern Munich's bench last season, he has four goals in South Africa and needs only two more to beat Ronaldo's record of 15 in all finals. England's Wayne Rooney goalless in two World Cup finals campaigns take note.

Injured Germany captain Michael Ballack insists that while history weighs heavy on their rivals, German players flourish in the knowledge of past national success.

"German teams approach every competition expecting to do well," wrote Ballack in The Times.

"Expectation can create pressure, but we're inspired by our history, whereas I've sensed that England are intimidated by their past.

"Individually, England have better players, but I'd rather be in the German team.

"We're one of the fittest sides in the tournament, play good football and have an outstanding mentality. We're a big country, with a big history, and have to go for it."
Ballack's mention of fitness gives a clue to Germany's success.

Firstly, the entire squad plays in the Bundesliga which enjoys a four-week winter break in January, allowing players to rejuvenate at the season's halfway stage.

Secondly, Bundesliga clubs play in only three other competitions during their regular season, the Champions League, which runs in tandem with the Europa League, and the German Cup.

German footballers refer to a week when they play a midweek game, plus a weekend match, as an "English week" - a reference to the England players' workload.

The way Germany's Mesut Ozil and Thomas Mueller carved up England's sluggish defence in the 4-1 round of 16 rout highlighted that and the 4-0 hammering of Argentina in the last eight was not performed by tired players.

Historically Germany can also cope with big-game pressure: they have won all four of the penalty shoot-outs they ever faced in World Cup finals.

Captain Philipp Lahm explains how the German Football Federation's (DFB) academy programme plays a role.

"The ability to cope with pressure, comes at a very young age," said the Bayern Munich star.

"Even when players are as old as just 13, they learn to deal with pressure and cope with difficult situations.

"At the big name clubs, players are blooded early and that gives them the right kind of mental strength which helps them cope with real pressure."

That is reflected in the current squad rising stars Mueller, goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, Ozil, midfielder Sami Khedira and defender Jerome Boateng all won their first cap in the last 18 months. Neuer is the oldest at just 24.

No wonder Germany always wins, according to Lineker.

First Published: Jul 06, 2010 16:17 IST