Will Tidey - England face a new enemy in Bloemfontein
Published: 25 Jun 2010 - 08:17:49
England and Germany meetings have quickened the footballing heart of three generations in this country, and a fourth is set to be consumed on Sunday afternoon.
But when all the talk is of English glory in '66, German revenge in '70, penalty heartache in the 90s and that freakish 5-1 demolition job in Munich, it's easy to forget this incarnation of Germany is a very different animal.
Those expecting gung-ho physicality, snarling aggression and cynicism from our familiar foes will be disappointed - or perhaps not as the case may be.
Joachim Loew's crop are the youngest in 75 years, and their weapon of choice is free-flowing, ambitious attacking football with a heavy dose of flair. Germany, like it or not, are potentially the most exciting side in the tournament.
Most of this is by design, but there is a strong case for arguing former captain Michael Ballack's forced omission was a blessing in disguise.
Ballack, a lumbering understudy to his former self, would have started every game for Germany at the Finals and unquestionably diluted their exuberance. After all, a box-to-box midfield general who doesn't get from box to box anymore is not much use to anyone.
Taking on the Ballack mantle of German Roy of the Rovers is Mesut Ozil - the 21-year-old playmaker who perfectly encapsulates the spirit of this 2010 group, marrying technical brilliance with a fearlessness that has shackled players with far higher price tags at the Finals (Wayne Rooney comes to mind).
Ozil has been a relevation in South Africa and would be in most peoples' World XI based on the tournament so far.
Joining him would be Phillip Lahm, the German captain and arguably the best full-back in the world, and possibly Thomas Muller - whose dominant presence on the right flank sparked the 4-0 romp over Australia.
Then there's Bastian Schweinsteiger, Germany's swashbuckling midfielder and the closest thing in Lowe's squad to the Germany we used to know. Ruthless, aggressive and dominant, Schweinsteiger would find a place in any German side gone by.
But the overwhelming personality of the Germany England face on Sunday is not that presented by Schweinsteiger - it's the youthful confidence of Ozil and Muller; the studious confidence of Lahm and the relaxed sophistication of Loew.
If England are expecting to go to war, they're preparing for the wrong battle. This showdown, in contrast to England-Germany meetings gone by, will be a battle of footballing guile and technical proficiency.
To win, England must nullify the threat of Ozil and Muller, and they must press like they've never pressed before. If they do that, Fabio Capello's men might just find themselves in the ascendancy and cracks in the fabled German mentality may appear sooner than expected. Defeat to Serbia proved as much.
But if this super-confident German outfit get ahead early, England could be theirs for the taking.
A new chapter awaits. Let's just hope it doesn't culminate in penalties.
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- Will Tidey writes on sport for CNN, Eurosport-Yahoo! and Bleacher Report, amongst others. His first book, 'Life with Sir Alex', an account of Sir Alex Ferguson's 25-year reign at Manchester United, is set for release in October this year. Pre-order it now at http://tinyurl.com/6xzl62b. And follow Will on Twitter here - www.twitter.com/willtidey
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