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What next for Germany?

Michael Ballack must have been wondering how many more chances at a final he is going to get as he walked through the Spanish guard of honour after the full time whistle on Sunday. The 31-year-old Chelsea midfielder has now been on the losing side of a final tree times in the last year. Prior to the Champions League and League Cup finals of last season, Ballack also missed the final of the World Cup in 2002 due to suspension. His team lost on the day but many wondered what the outcome would have been had Ballack played.

Germany began Euro 2008 as favourites. The fact that they were more-or-less on their own doorstep for their group matches in Austria may have has some bearing on the bookmakers’ decisions. So too may have been that, due to the change in the structure of the tournament, Germany were in the weaker half of the draw. It seemed only Portugal and Croatia would provide any difficulty, if any.

But it must have been the fact that Germany are Germany that made up the bookmakers’ minds because after watching the tournament, Germany looked nothing more than a mediocre side punching above their weight. In the final on Sunday they were bombarded with Spanish attacks and were lucky to escape only conceding one. At the other end they rarely even threatened the goal of Iker Casillas.

There is some quality in the German side and not all of it shone through. Klose and Lahm, two of Germany’s better players had poor overall tournaments and the players expected to shine after good seasons, Gomez and Jansen, never really got going. Gomez got off to a bad start but his miss of the tournament against Austria, effectively ended his part in the competition, his only other appearance after that was for five or ten minutes in the final.

I am amazed that Germany reached this far with the way they defended. Per Mertesacker gave the ball away time and time again from the start of the tournament to the end. Even against such lowly opposition as Austria he was caught in possession, which almost led to Austria taking the lead. His central defensive partner Christoph Metzelder was better but still prone to an error. In all honesty, I though Metzelder had a decent four games. He was good in possession braver in challenges but when it came to the big stage, the final, he was all over the place.

But these two could not have been filled with confidence knowing who was behind them in goals. Lehmann has obviously proved he has been a top quality goalkeeper in the past but even during his time at Arsenal he was never the safest pair of hands. No wonder a section of the Stuttgart support were recently against signing him and not just for the fact that he peaked while at Dortmund.

In reaching the final, however, Der Mannschaft obviously done something right. In Joachim Löw they have a shrewd tactician and in players like Lukas Podolski and Bastian Schweinsteiger they have talent that will safely take them to tournaments in the future. Ballack and Frings have formed a great partnership in the middle of the park but will they both still be there come South Africa in two years time? And who will replace them? Simon Rolfes looked impressive in Germany’s best performance over the last six weeks but was found out as Turkey’s midfield ran riot in the first half of the semi final. Thomas Hitzlsperger, who didn’t start a match until the knockout stages, was anonymous for most of his playing time.

Unless Germany have a disastrous qualification, which begins against Liechtenstein in September, Löw will lead Germany to the World Cup in 2010. However, he will need to use the qualification to bring through some younger, more dynamic talent rather than relying on the ‘German mentality’ that has taken them through to the latter stages in the past.

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