Mertesacker joins the 100 club – now the German generation must deliver

COMMENT: The Arsenal defender will become the fifth player in Joachim Low’s World Cup squad to rack up a century of caps on Saturday and that experience has to show now

By Enis Koylu

When Germany stormed their way to the World Cup semi-finals in South Africa four years ago, only to fall to Spain at the penultimate hurdle, the criticism levelled at them was that they were lacking in experienced heads.

It was a similar story two years later at Euro 2012, when they were defeated in the last four by Italy, playing a naive brand of football which left them vulnerable to the counterattack – and Mario Balotelli twice took full advantage.

This time out there can be no excuses. When he takes to the field against Ghana on Saturday, Per Mertesacker will become the latest player to reach the 100 club for the national team – and he is still under 30.

Since Low’s work with the national team began in 2006, he has gone about moulding a group that would grow together for years and years. Of course, as older stars move on and younger players come to the fore, new faces have appeared here and there, but a core of Mertesacker, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose has remained for a decade.

As the years have gone by, key players have grown and grown. In 2013, Bayern delivered on the promise they had shown for years and finally delivered the treble they had been threatening to win for years. The mood among the Bavarians’ stars will certainly be high.

Sami Khedira has become a key figure at Real Madrid and helped the Spanish giants win La Liga in 2012 – complete with a goal in the critical Clasico – and the Champions League last month.

Mertesacker, along with Podolski and Mesut Ozil helped Arsenal to win the FA Cup and end nine years of disappointment back in May.

Unlike in 2010, or even in 2012 – when Bayern were fresh from Champions League final defeats – this group of players have the experience of winning trophies to go with their undoubted ability.

Age is on their side too. Unlike Spain, perhaps the other most-fancied European team going into the tournament, Germany had only one player over 30 in their starting XI for their opening match – Philipp Lahm, whose talents are hardly on the wane following a great season with Bayern.

The youngest member of the first team for the decimation of Portugal was Mario Gotze, but the 22-year-old is hardly a novice, having won the Bundesliga three times and briefly held the title of the most expensive German player in history prior to Ozil’s move to Arsenal. He is no stranger to the hostility and pressure he’ll face as the tournament wears on.

Crucially, they are also in possession of players who have proved themselves on the big stage. Thomas Muller already has eight World Cup goals to his name, Klose is in hot pursuit of Ronaldo’s record of 15 strikes and Podolski has shone at major tournaments throughout his career.

In Joachim Low, they also have an immensely experienced coach. His work with the DFB began in 2004 and he has overseen a huge period of change following the team’s failure at that summer’s Euros. He can learn from the mistakes he and his players have made during his decade-long tenure.

The players are totally united behind their coach too, and recognise the importance of winning the competition this time.

“Low has introduced a totally new Germany team – one that is respected across the world,” Ozil said recently. “I hope he will finally be rewarded. He’s one of the best in the world and and we’re happy to have him around the team.”

All that now remains for the squad and their coach is to succeed at international level.

This could be their year. Germany started the tournament superbly, beating Portugal 4-0, despite initial concerns over team selection and a wave of injuries plaguing the team. Their remaining group games are against Ghana and USA and look distinctly winnable.

There should be no lingering doubts as to their ability to win big matches. On a personal level, too, they will want to silence their critics after falling short so many times before.

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