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Football power shifts to Germany

No one could have predicted the results of the first-leg semifinal matches of the 2013 Uefa Champions League. Not even Paul the Octopus.

Perhaps, the most appropriate way to explain it would be to say that the matches were a loud announcement of the shift of European football power once again - this time from Spain to Germany.

It was Real Madrid that started the Spanish ascent to the top of European football some 14 years ago. Between 1998 and 2002 the club won the Uefa Champions League three times in three attempts.

Barcelona were then handed the baton and from 2006 won the championship three times, in 2006, 2009 and 2011.

This ‘infection’ caught on even at national team level. This period became, undoubtedly, the best era of Spanish football in the world, influenced in no small way by the arsenal of Spanish players in Real Madrid and Barcelona. Their performance for Spain enabled the country to realise their full potential of winning the European Nations Cup in 2008 for the first time and again in 2012.

In between those two victories in 2010, at the World Cup level, Spain also won her first World Cup title.

It is no surprise that Spain has since been the world’s dominant and highest ranked national team for some years now, thanks to the brand of football hewn and mastered in Nou Camp.

The story of German football is slightly different. It has a deep and rich history, even if it now takes a little dusting up of the archives to recall it. At club level, in the modern era, German teams have only 1997 (Borussia Dortmund) and 2001 (Bayern Munich) to show as victories in European club football.

At the European Nations Cup level, before Germany won again in 1996, they had only recorded two previous cup victories – in 1972 and in 1980. Since 1996, and for 18 years, it has been one long night.

The World Cup presents the ultimate test in football. This is where, as a world football power, there is no question about Germany’s towering height and record of achievements. Few countries in the world have better credentials with seven appearances at the finals, at least getting to the quarterfinal stage in every competition since 1982 and winning it three times - in 1954 in Switzerland, in 1974 at home in Germany and the last time in 1990 in Italy. It seems like eons ago.

When Germany lost to Brazil in 2002 at the Korea/Japan World Cup finals the Germans were so distraught about the state of their football that it was reported they went back to the drawing board. They assembled the country’s best coaches for a football retreat, where it was decided a new football philosophy was needed in order to regain its past glory. They knew that developing a new football culture is a marathon, not a sprint race.

It may have finally come together. Last week, I was one of the millions of football fans who witnessed the maturity of a new football style that may have decoded and neutralised Spain’s Tiki Taka style of football.

A few weeks ago I wondered, on these pages, if the Barcelona style of play had been decoded by other teams and asked if Spanish football was on the decline?

Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich may have now provided some kind of answer. Even with Barcelona having been showing some vulnerability in the team’s defense, it was not anticipated they would be completely dismembered and made to look so ordinary. Now, although not impossible, only a miracle can see them qualify for the finals with their four-goal deficit.

Real Madrid could not raise their game last Wednesday night and looked tired and dispirited at times but they scored a goal that can now mean so much in the return leg. With that goal in the kitty, the contest is not over as many people believe. They stand a better chance than Barca of creating a major upset. Realistically, looking at the previous contest between them, “Mount Dortmund” may just be too high to climb.

Borussia Dortmund played against Real Madrid with such discipline, confidence and composure that they looked like the champion-in-waiting.

Bayern Munich were also very well organised, so much so that Barcelona, masters of possession and attacking football, did not glimpse the Bayern goal in 90 minutes of play.

Lionel Messi, who could have posed the greatest threat to Bayern Munich, was rendered impotent by some clever tactics and his unfit condition. It was sad to see the world’s current best player bungling.

The stage is now set for two return-leg matches that will be as intriguing and interesting as the first matches, and offer all manner of possibilities. I believe one thing. I know the result of the matches will be as different from the first matches as day is to night. Mark my words.

Any win for the Spanish teams will provide some consolation. The matches will again be intriguing because of their potential for the unexpected and unpredictable.

Next week, I still perceive the scent of Germany all over the 2013 Uefa League Championship Trophy.

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