For a normal national team, Germany’s recent run of relative success would be cause for celebration: quarterfinalists at both the 2017 Euros and 2011 World Cup, with a semifinals appearance at the 2015 World Cup and a 2013 Euro title. Oh, plus Olympic gold in 2016. For Die Nationalelf, though, this recent streak of good-not-great is the first real crisis of confidence for the team since at least the mid-nineties.
That says a lot about what the German soccer association has been able to accomplish over the last 25 years, but also speaks to a team in transition from an era of dominance to one of volatility. For starters, gone is longtime head coach Silvia Neid, who guided the team to the 2007 World Cup title, as well as two Euros (2009 and 2013) and the 2016 Olympic gold.
Neid stepped down after the Olympics, with Steffi Jones stepping in. Jones was “released” (read: fired) in early 2018 following the disappointing 2017 Euros run to just the quarter-finals (after winning every edition of the tournament dating back to 1995), and an embarrassing last-place finish at the 2018 SheBelieves Cup.
After an interim spell by Horst Hrubesch, in comes Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, who formerly coached Switzerland into relevance. She’s no stranger to the German national team; as a player she earned 125 caps for Germany, won four Euros, and finished as runners-up in the 1995 World Cup. But Voss-Tecklenburg inherits a team that just saw a ton of talent retire, and will instead have to rely on new blood and a few key returning luminaries.
Among those is Germany’s best player, and in fact one of the best in the world, Dzsenifer Marozsán. The 27-year-old Lyon midfielder is likely the best playmaker in the tournament, and is already extremely decorated at the club level, winning three straight Champions League titles with the French side that has dominated European soccer for the last four years. She was also part of the 2013 Euro winning German side, but was just 21 at the time and not anywhere near the star she is now.
Since 2015, though, Marozsán has lost some key supporting figures, including former playmaker Anja Mittag and poacher Célia Šašić. Instead, she will rely on captain Alexandra Popp and 21-year-old striker Lea Schüller to finish her beautiful passes. Schüller in particular could have a breakout World Cup playing on the left wing for a team that will need plenty of goals, given its question marks at the back. Germany’s main focus is on quick, decisive attacks with the front six in a 4-2-3-1, which leaves their backline exposed against teams that can counter right back.
The talent is there for Germany to not just make a deep run, but to win the whole thing. Their group isn’t the easiest (China and Spain are both capable of breaking down defenses from the midfield, and South Africa are at least a tough defensive challenge), but the Germans will be favored to advance at the top of the group, where a match-up with one of the best third-place finishers will await. Luckily for the Germans, if things break right, they will end up on the other side of the bracket from other tournament favorites France and the United States, who beat them in Canada four years ago.
That’s neither here nor there, though. The toughest opponent for Germany this summer will be themselves. Due to Voss-Tecklenburg’s shortened run-up with the team—due to a contract situation with the Swiss team, she only joined in November of last year, with just four friendlies before the World Cup under her belt—this is a more volatile side than you would expect from a perennial contender.
If the Germans can jell, and if they can construct even an average defense (particularly in the center), it won’t matter who’s on the other side of the field. After a “down” period, the Germans are set-up for a rise back to the last stages of the tournament.
Goalkeepers: Almuth Schult (VfL Wolfsburg), Laura Benkarth (SC Freiburg), Merle Frohms (SC Freiburg)
Defenders: Carolin Simon (Lyon), Kathrin Hendrich (1. FFC Frankfurt), Leonie Maier (Arsenal), Marina Hegering (SGS Essen), Lena Goeßling (VfL Wolfsburg), Johanna Elsig (Turbine Potsdam), Verena Schweers (Bayern Munich), Sara Doorsoun (VfL Wolfsburg)
Midfielders: Lena Oberdorf (SGS Essen), Svenja Huth (Turbine Potsdam), Dzsenifer Marozsán (Lyon), Sara Däbritz (Paris Saint-Germain), Giulia Gwinn (Bayern Munich), Linda Dallmann (SGS Essen), Melanie Leupolz (Bayern Munich), Lina Magull (Bayern Munich), Turid Knaak (SGS Essen)
Forwards: Lea Schüller (SGS Essen), Alexandra Popp (VfL Wolfsburg), Klara Bühl (SC Freiburg)
Die Nationalelf (The National Eleven)
The Germans will likely stick to their tried and true 4-2-3-1 this time around, with Marozsán playing a the number 10 role to spray passes to the three other attackers, or to just rip long-range shots with her powerful right foot. If the last few friendlies are an indication, those three attackers will be Popp at the top, with Schüller on the left and Svenja Huth on the right. Behind them will likely be Sara Däbritz and Melanie Leupolz, two defensive midfielders focused on transitioning possession and breaking up attacks.
One player to watch is 19-year-old hybrid player Giulia Gwinn, who is moving to Bayern Munich this summer from Freiburg. She has been deployed as a right back for the national team, most recently in the final warm-up friendly against Chile (a 2-0 Germany win), but she can also slot in as an advanced midfielder in the front four, as she did in an impressive showing against Japan in April. She’s one of Germany’s fastest players, and just getting into opponents’ boxes will cause havoc if she’s deployed further up. She can also score a cracker here and there, as she did against China last summer:
On the other side of the ball, Germany will once again rely on a counter-press to shore up some defensive deficiencies. Often times in international soccer—which has less time to practice and therefore less time to jell—a hard press can be enough to discombobulate opponents, and with teams likely playing conservatively against Germany’s rapid attack, the opportunities to pin players back with a good press will help Germany. However, if they do get caught out on the counter, watch out for the scoreboard; Germany’s center backs aren’t the fleetest of footed, and converted right back Gwinn isn’t terribly strong defensively.
June 8, 9 a.m.: Germany vs. China at Roazhon Park
June 12, 12 p.m.: Germany vs. Spain at Stade du Hainaut
June 17, 12 p.m.: South Africa vs. Germany at Stade de la Mosson
All times Eastern