WHEN I was still the head of the German national team (1984-1990), I would have been pretty furious if my team had to play for qualification points against Gibraltar – then a few days later a friendly match against Spain.
Even though in this case, on Tuesday, it is naturally a top match that the whole world will be watching: former world champions Spain against the new World Cup titlists Germany.
Nowadays I can take a milder view of things. This is about qualifying for a European championships, and 56 federations are battling for 24 spots at the 2016 tournament in France.
So the smaller federations, like Gibraltar, have just as much right as the big ones to compete, even though it really doesn’t help bring the game further along.
But for certain it helps promote understanding among nations, something that, given the world’s political tensions, is enormously important. It also brings in some revenue for the smaller federations, and the smaller nations can learn something from such matches.
There really aren’t any real minnows left in football nowadays, with the possible exception of Gibraltar. I would add San Marino as well.
When such teams go up against the big guys, seven goals allowed is virtually the rule. And so it was somewhat disappointing that World Cup champs Germany won by only 4-0 thanks to goals by Thomas Mueller (2), Mario Goetze, and an own-goal by Gibraltar. Many people were expecting a result of 10-0.
But now looking at Spain. Despite so many good players, the team appears to be learning some things all over again. When the heart of the team, Xabi Alonso, who turns 33 next week, has departed, and with the short-passing magician Xavi Hernandez, who soon turns 35, also lost, it is a catastrophe for trainer Vicente Del Bosque.
Above all because other top players like Fernando Torres and David Villa have also stepped down. But I still don’t have any worries about Spain.
They have tremendous talent coming up, as well as 26-year-old striker Diego Costa – who has transferred from Atletico Madrid to FC Chelsea. He’s playing at the uppermost level and is still developing.
For the Germans, this is a match to watch and see how the side really adds up after the World Cup final victory, followed by a 2-4 loss in a friendly match, against Argentina.
It’s now a side without former captain Philipp Lahm and striker Miro Klose, the most successful World Cup scorer of all time with 16 goals. But the Spaniards, who are also in the process of regrouping, can try a few things out against the world champions. So I expect a match of experimentation.
In this respect it will be interesting to see how Spanish keeper Iker Casillas fares. At Real Madrid he has long since been regarded as a football deity. But now things there aren’t going easy for him, and at times he must even worry about losing out to Keylar Navas of Costa Rica.
Casillas for the longest time proved his superior calibre, from 2008 to 2013 was voted the world’s best goalkeeper, and is considered one of the best keepers of all time.
Del Bosque has the right instincts, though. He’ll know whether, or for how long, he can still go with Casillas as his goalie.
Prior to the match against Gibraltar, Germany’s players meanwhile were being chauffeured from one awards ceremony to the next, from one show to another.
You can’t condemn this. As World Cup champs you have earned it – when else are you otherwise going to be so honoured if not after such a title?
In the duel against Spain, there will certainly be a lot of attention paid to Toni Kroos, who has stepped up as the successor to Xabi Alonso at Real Madrid.
In Germany, there were some who did not think Kroos was up to the task. But his transfer from Bayern to Real looks like a winning lottery ticket for him.
He is getting inculcated with a different playing philosophy, something that is worth its weight in gold for his ongoing development.
In the meantime, Kroos is even being compared by some journalists with the legendary Alfredo di Stefano, something that I consider greatly exaggerated.
To me, di Stefano was the best, the most complete, player ever. I had the honour of playing against him in 1964. He was already a legend then. Perfect with his left foot, perfect with the right. Not tied to any one position, he prevented goals back on defence, shot goals up front. Di Stefano could do it all. – (GMS)