Not your typical German squad
The cliché has, like most football clichés, taken on a life of it's own a long time ago, to the point that even the immensely talented 1974 World Cup winning side (think Breitner, Beckenbauer, Müller, Uli Hoeness) are now often lazily characterized as dull spoil-sports who regrettably out-muscled Johan Cruyff's Dutch Total Football masters.
In 2006, national manager Jürgen Klinsmann's gung-ho approach (high pressing up the pitch coupled with incisive wing play) briefly changed perceptions but by Euro 2008, a Germany team playing very fast if not always successful counter-attacking football were once again described as 'typical Germans," even by a well-respected English football correspondent.
This year's team has already dubbed "functional" by the Guardian's tactical expert David Pleat. It's a view purely based on stereotype rather than actual evidence, however, because this version of the "Nationalmannschaft" is neither that defensively solid nor particularly physical.
In fact, with two "holding midfielders" (Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira) who are by nature attacking minded and three small (ish) creative midfielders in front of them (Mesut Özil, Lukas Podolski, plus one from Thomas Müller, Marko Marin or Piotr Trochowski), this is probably most light-weight, most creative side ever to wear white and black.
"We have many players who are strong in one-v-one situations and are technically better than the Australians", said captain Philipp Lahm, who, at 1.70m, is himself hardly a a prime specimen of a Teutonic automaton. "This is no longer a typically German side," added the Bayern Munich fullback.
Löw confident with new style
Convincing wins over Hungary and Bosnia in two test matches have given the national coach Jogi Löw the belief that Germany can prosper with this new style. It won't be quite as possession-based as Bayern Munich's Barcelona-lite game-plan - "We start deeper down the pitch and wait for the opposition a bit more", explained Lahm.
But it still amounts to a fairly radical departure for a team whose centre of gravity will shift from defensive midfield to a point significantly higher up the pitch.
Germany, in other words, will change from being a Michael Ballack team (breaking up the opposition play before ghosting in for a header or a long-distance shot) to a Mesut Özil team (plenty of nice touches, taking on players, one or two tricks).
Unlike four years ago, when Klinsmann's tactics were very much based on a strong philosophy, or an ideology even - namely the belief that going forward is the only way possible - the new, slightly Latin-infused approach of Löw is very much a function of injuries and other deficits. Without any world-class centre-backs or real experts in defensive midfield, the 50-year-old has had his hand forced to a large extent. To his credit, he's decided to make the most of the assets at his disposal rather than to look for a half-hearted compromise.
Initial doubts about a lack of robustness against the very physical challenge posed by the Group D opponents have given way to a confidence that the team can find "playful solutions" (Löw) to the problems at hand. Sunday's match against the Aussies will provide the acid test, of course. It'll be fascinating to see whether new style works - and whether the so-called experts will able to let go of their cherished stereotypes in the process.
About the Author
Raphael Honigstein is a London-based soccer correspondent for Süddeutsche Zeitung, Germany's biggest broadsheet newspaper. He covers German soccer for The Guardian and Talksport Radio, is the author of "Englischer Fussball. A German's view of our Beautiful Game," and writes a regular blog on www.footbo.com.