"This is an absolute catastrophe. Ballack cannot be replaced." Germany legend
The success with which Löw has since forged a new-look Germany, however, has invited all of us to wonder how fortunate the Germans are to have been forced to shuffle the pack. In the 2002 World Cup Spain celebrated beating the Republic of Ireland on penalties thanks to the heroics of
Schweinsteiger, until a season ago a winger, had made the move into the middle for Bayern Munich following the arrival of
In a final warmup for the World Cup against Bosnia & Herzegovina, Khedira and Schweinsteiger were Germany's star performers, alternating attacking and defending roles and both producing crisp, incisive passing while offering the back line near faultless protection. For the six years of Ballack's captaincy, Germany had played to his rhythm. It was a steady beat, but one that was slowing, and -- as we've seen time and again in South Africa -- this new partnership gives Germany the edge on the counterattack, allowing it to snap into a forward move almost instantly.
Khedira is 10 years Ballack's junior and it shows. Schweinsteiger might seem to have been around forever, but he's still only two years older than Khedira at 25. Both have Ballack's knack for defensive disruption and eye for a fine forward pass but, crucially, both (though particularly Schweinsteiger) can carry the ball up the pitch for themselves, at pace. Against Argentina at the weekend, the comparison between the German pair and their opponents was staggering, though Diego Maradona's omission of a second defensive midfielder to aid Javier Mascherano helped. Perhaps the way they handled England's midfield in the previous round offers a better argument.
Either way, it is Germany, one of the World Cup's youngest squads, that has produced the tournament's finest soccer, and in Schweinsteiger it can boast one of the finest central midfielders around. No German team has been this exciting in 20 years, and it is
In fact, the success of youth has been noticeable at these finals. It's not the case that those teams that have gone furthest have been the youngest -- quarterfinalist Brazil was amongst the oldest, while Cameroon, the first team to be eliminated, was among the youngest. But while ageing squads such as England, Italy and France (which held onto 27 players from four years ago between them) struggled to get their campaigns off the ground, Germany was joined by nations such as Ghana and Chile in fielding young sides and seeing it pay off.
Ghana too lost its talismanic midfield general,
At 32, striker
How crucial an ingredient might that love be? France, England, Italy ... all looked overwhelmed by ego and expectation as well as the advancing years. In contrast, Germany -- and Ghana, Chile, plus less successful young squads such as North Korea -- have shown such passion and hunger, translating that into the kind of selfless teamwork that creates irrepressible movement around the pitch. That it has brought Germany the greatest success perhaps suggests that the responsibility and experience afforded to young players in the Bundesliga better eliminates the nerves and mistakes of youth.