No one foresaw what happened.
No one could have predicted the results of the first-leg semi-final matches of the 2013 UEFA Champions league. Not even Paul the Octopus. No one saw it coming, at least not to the extent of the complete overhaul of two of the greatest football clubs in the world in the past 14 years -both of them Spanish- by two German clubs.
Perhaps, the most appropriate way to explain it would be to say that the matches were a loud announcement of the shift of European football power once again. This time from Spain to Germany!
It was Real Madrid FC that started the Spanish ascent to the top of European football some 14 years ago. Between 1998 and 2000, the club won the UEFAChampions League three times in four attempts. FC Barcelona were then handed the baton, and from 2006 won the championship three times, in 2006, 2009 and 2011.
This ‘infection’ caught on even at national team level. This period became, undoubtedly, the best era of Spanish football in the world influenced in no small way by the arsenal of Spanish players in Real Madrid FC and FC Barcelona. Their performance for Spain enabled the country to realize their full potential of winning the European Nations Cup in 2008 for the first time and again in 2012.
In between those two victories in 2010, at the World Cup level, Spain also won her first World Cup title.
It is no surprise that Spain has since been the world’s dominant and highest ranked national team for some years now, no thanks to the brand of football hewn and mastered in Nou Camp.
The story of German football is slightly different. It has a deep and rich history, even if it now takes a little bit of dusting up of the archives to recall it. At club level, in the modern era, German teams have only 1997 (Borussia Dortmund FC) and 2001 (Bayern Munich FC) to show as victories in European club football.
At the European Nations Cup level, before Germany won again in 1996, they had only recorded two previous Cup victories – in 1972 and in 1980. Since 1996, and for 18 years, it has been one long night.
The World Cup presents the ultimate test in football. This is where as a world football power, there is no question about Germany’s towering height and record of achievements. Only very few countries in the world have better credentials with seven appearances at the finals, at least getting to the quarter-final stage in every competition since 1982, and winning it three times – in 1954 in Switzerland, in 1974 at home in Germany and the last time in 1990 in Italy. It seems like eons ago!
When Germany lost to Brazil in 2002 at the Korea/Japan World Cup finals, the Germans were so distraught about the state of their football that it was reported they went back to the drawing board, assembled the country’s best coaches for a football retreat where it was decided a new football philosophy was needed in order to regain its past glory several years down the line. They also knew that developing a new football culture is a marathon, not a sprint race.
It may have finally come together. Last Tuesday and Wednesday nights, I was one of millions of the football faithful that witnessed, perhaps, the maturity of a new football style that may have decoded and neutralized Spain’s adopted Tiki Taka style of movements and passes that have left defenders all over the world bewildered and mostly on the losing side of many an encounter with Spanish sides.
A few weeks ago I was wondering on these pages if the Barcelona-style of play has been decoded by other teams, and asked the question if Spanish football was on the decline.
FC Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich FC, two German clubs, playing on their home turf, may have now provided some kind of answer.
Playing against two of the best clubs in the world in the past few years was a humble eye-opener.
True, even with Barcelona having been showing some vulnerability in the team’s defense, it was not anticipated they would be completely dismembered and made to look so ordinary. Now, although not impossible, only a miracle can see them qualify for the finals with their four-goal deficit.
Real Madrid that just could not raise their game last Wednesday night and looked tired and dispirited at times, scored a goal that can now mean so much in the return leg. With that goal in the kitty, they contest is not over as many people believe. They stand a better chance than Barca of creating a major upset. But realistically, looking at the previous contest between them and Dortmund FC, that mount may just be too high to climb.
Borussia Dortmund FC, played against Real Madrid FC with such discipline, confidence and composure that they looked like the champion-in-waiting.
Bayern Munich were also very well organized, so much so that FC Barcelona, master of possession and attacking football, did not glimpse the Bayern goal in 90 minutes of play.
Lionel Messi that could have posed the greatest threat to Bayern Munich was rendered impotent by some clever tactics and his unfit condition. It was sad to see the world’s current best player bungling!
The stage is now set once again for two return-leg matches that will be as intriguing and interesting as the first matches, and portend all manner of possibilities.Any kind of win for the Spanish teams will provide some consolation.The matches will again be intriguing because of their potential for the unexpected and unpredictable.
I know and believe this one thing, the results of the next matches will be as different from the first matches as day is to night. Mark my words!
Germany And The 2014 World Cup
German football appears to be back, riding on the crest of their two great clubs, and building a new tradition of football that will make them authentic contenders for the 2014 World Cup.
Some of us have started to draw the conclusion that the world is witnessing the morning of a new day and a possible major power shift in European and World football.
Next week, I still perceive the scent of Germany all over the 2013 UEFA League Championship trophy!