Are the Germans developing into the nearly men of football?

All the stereotypes seem to fit appropriately with German football: The efficiency, the hard work and the commitment. The 1999 Champions League final saw a very determined Bayern Munich side falter at a hurdle that almost seemed unbelievable in it’s placement. The Bayern Munich side of this year and of 2009 also failed in the final; their status as one of the greats of European football wasn’t enough to grant them what should certainly have been “their title” in “their final.”

For large parts of this summer’s Euro 2012 championship, Germany captured many hearts with their impressive attacking display and their youthful efficiency in defence. Their depth was something every nation would have been envious of (barring Spain, of course) and the ease at which they coasted through the tournament with goals from many areas of the pitch led most to assume that this would be their year.

The Germans had their own master in midfield in Bastian Schweinsteiger, with bwin sponsored Real Madrid midfielder Mesut Ozil roaming in front of him. Their forward line can be rotated with ease and the eccentric but greatly talented character between the posts offers the solidity and confidence to build from the back.

The issue with Germany is that they’re not so much struggling to find their identity in world football, but rather they seem to have a tough time of enforcing it when it matters. The great expectation of their fans and the media doesn’t help either.

The Bayern Munich side of this past season were undone by a number of players who failed to deliver on the big stage. Similarly, the semifinal against Italy at the Euros highlighted the Germans’ failure to really take a stranglehold of the situation and play the game that had got them that far. It does appear that for many tournaments the Germans start brightly, wowing many and offering a much more aggressive approach to the game than Spain do, for example.

It’s still attractive football, of course, but the German sides really do adopt a mentality of no nonsense. That stereotype of Germans having a poor sense of humour couldn’t be more appropriate for the way they go into a game, dismantle their opponents and retire for the night until the next group of no-hopers show up.

At least that’s the way they should be portrayed. Their kits don’t represent the colourfulness and laid back party atmosphere way the Dutch do, and Spain really do toy with their opponents before landing the killer blow. But the steely determination of most in the German squad sends a message of quiet confidence; confidence in their ability and confidence that their feathers won’t be ruffled at some stage. Yet unfortunately that is almost always the case.

Against the Italians, their failure to enforce their identity and footballing beliefs on a game was extremely apparent. Gone were the counterattacking ability of their wide players in Thomas Muller and Lukas Podolski and in came the naturally central Toni Kroos. An excellent player when played in the right system, but Kroos gave nothing but severe imbalance to the German team. Their game was forced into the central areas and players like Daniele De Rossi and Andrea Pirlo capitalised.

Even though the intentions were good, it’s always a big risk to stray from the game that brought you so far. Across the field the German’s looked ineffective and lost. They are a better combined unit than the Italians, but they gifted their opposition the chance to advance to the final.

The problem with labelling Germany with a negative stamp is that they are what you’d consider “successful” on the international stage. Ok they’re not winning the trophy, but there are many countries who would consider it a success to be where Germany place themselves on a consistent basis. It’s difficult to recall any real problem in the German camp over the last decade, whereas Italy, France and The Netherlands have all had varying issues of significance.

And yet when an issue presented itself, Germany identified problems with their performances and started on the road to a revamped and younger squad. They took advantage of their excellent production line and ensured that there was talent all over the pitch and in reserves. Impressively, the Germans aren’t struggling to mesh a group of talents together in the hope that they can coexist for the duration of a four-week tournament. Rather, they all follow the same ethos on the pitch; everyone pulls their weight equally with positive results.

The positive for Germany is that they do have a number of years ahead of them for this group of players to be successful and exorcise the demons. They will of course have to overcome the title defence of the current champions, but that all adds up to is part of the process; there is simply another team who are better and know they’re better. A better group who do not struggle to hold their nerve.