A look back at Germany's performance in Euro 2012, from the fantastic beginning to the bitter end.
Had Germany played Spain in the final, they wouldn't have lost 4-0. They may have been outclassed, but they would have put up more of a fight than the Italians. Labeled as favorites alongside Spain going into the tournament, die Nationalelf were supposed to be as good as the reigning Euro and WC champions. But they still aren't quite at that level. Not yet.
Even during the group stages, Germany left me wanting more. Their play still didn't seem as polished as during the 2010 World Cup, where they put on performances such as 4-1 and 4-0 demolitions of England and Argentina, respectively. Nevertheless, they had their bright spots. The defense, anchored by center backs Holger Badstuber and Mats Hummels, was able to shut down Portuguese and Dutch attacks. Sami Khedira was all over the pitch, and for me was Germany's player of the tournament. And most importantly, they got results. Despite having won 3/3 in the group of death, I knew the Germans had more.
Against Greece in the quarter final, die Mannschaft put it all together. I was in Berlin for this match, and watched the game with 450,000 other screaming fans at the Fan Meile. The atmosphere was amazing. With three changes to the squad, I finally saw the team I wanted to see. I was ecstatic to see Marco Reus in the starting line-up, and he showed he deserved his spot. Mesut Oezil reminded us what he could do, terrorizing the defense, and Khedira contributed a great goal. But of course, this was against Greece.
Italy, in the semi final, was the real test. And this loss against Italy I attribute in part to some bizarre mind games. On one hand, they were haunted by the fact that they still haven't beaten Italy in a major tournament. Scared. On the other hand, they were overconfident, having won their past four games against respectable sides. Italy was supposed to be one final hurdle before the showdown with Spain.
In addition, there's Jogi Loew's lineup decision. Although he's one of my favorite players, starting Toni Kroos was a mistake. And sadly, Lukas Podolski was too. As for Mario Gomez...I think I would have rather seen Miro Klose start.
And then came Balotelli. Say what you want about his off the field antics, Balotelli fed off the pressure of this game, punishing Germany for their defensive sloppiness.
2-0 down, Germany continued to push, and created their chances (a gorgeous Reus free-kick in the second half comes to mind). In the end, a well taken penalty from Oezil was only a consolation. 2-1. Despite all the talent, I think this young team still lacks resolve. Bayern Munich had a similar problem this year. Often, FCB was simply unable to overcome deficits. And so was Germany, against Italy. In the second half, despite their chances, they never really looked able lto overcome the early deficit. It just seemed like they just didn't want it bad enough.
Now, looking ahead to Brazil 2014, the fire and passion in this young German squad must continue to grow. Badstuber and Hummels will develop a stalwart defence (Manuel Neuer's prowess in net goes without saying). Khedira and Schweinsteiger will continue to develop their partnership and dominate the midfield. And in attack? With Oezil, Reus, Goetze, Schuerrle, Mueller, Poldi, Gomez, and (possibly) Klose, there are many options and endless potential.
So after another excellent tournament ended in bitter disappointment, all we can do is continue to have high hopes and high expectations for this young German side. This was supposed to be the year, except it wasn't. They're still not on Spain's level, but they will be.