FORTALEZA, Brazil -- Three thoughts from Germany's 2-2 draw with Ghana in Group G.
1. Ghana's tactics work a treat -- until the goals flood in
Joachim Low wasn't lying. The Germany coach had talked incessantly about the difficult conditions in Brazil, and it was clear to see how much his team suffered in Fortaleza.
Within five minutes of the first half, Philipp Lahm, the German captain who still has the same youthful face he had at his first World Cup game in 2006, looked older than ever before. The heat and humidity slowed Germany down from the kickoff, and Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah's smart tactics made sure that they didn't pick up any significant pace during the first 51 minutes either.
Appiah had his team playing a midfield pressing game: they waited for Germany at the halfway line and attacked the first player in a white shirt who received the ball. Low knew that would be the pattern. His full-backs were positioned right next to the touchline in possession to provide an outlet for the centre-backs and bring width to the game. Unfortunately, that strategy proved unsuccessful: Jerome Boateng and Benedikt Howedes are centre-backs by nature, and not comfortable enough on the ball to either attack the space or start the attacks with passes forward. They could only pass it back again, at which point the centre-backs would look for the three forward players with long balls.
As a result, Germany were unable to settle on the ball and impose their own rhythm on the game. The chances the Nationalmannschaft did create mostly stemmed from the front three linking up with each other. Against four strong Ghanaians in defence and two more holding midfielders, that proved extremely difficult, before the goals opened the game and tactical order went more or less out the window.
Final: Germany 2, Ghana 2. Result means #USMNT advances to the knockout round with a win over Portugal tomorrow.- Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) June 21, 2014
2. Defensive mistakes get things going
Mario Gotze's goal to put Germany ahead 1-0 had an element of good fortune to it -- a simple cross from Thomas Muller split Jonathan Mensah and John Boye -- but Germany soon repaid the favour twice over.
Shkodran Mustafi, on as an early substitute for in the injured Boateng, didn't attack the ball to let Andre Ayew plant a powerful header past Manuel Neuer. A couple of minutes later, Lahm underhit a pass to Sami Khedira, and the Real Madrid midfielder, who did not look quite at his best in the heat, failed to recover. A great run from Asamoah Gyan, followed by the perfect pass, left the striker one-on-one with Neuer, and his finish was excellent.
Germany looked genuinely rattled. Low had warned that they couldn't afford to chase the lead in Brazil but here they were, up against a physically stronger side and no real idea how to let their football do the talking. At that stage, Ghana were well on top, and if their counterattacks had been more clinical, they could have killed off the game
Instead, a corner brought relief to the Germans; Howedes nodded the ball to the back post where Miroslav Klose stabbed the ball in. The 36-year-old's 15th World Cup goal -- he's now tied with (the Brazilian) Ronaldo -- was reminiscent of Ole-Gunnar Solskjaer's winner against Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League final, but not quite dramatic.
3. The bench is Germany's biggest asset
Khedira needed to be the link man between the three forwards and the midfield -- not by passing, but making runs to fill that space. He didn't have a bad game, but struggled more than his teammates.
Low was able to react: he brought on Bastian Schweinsteiger, who played reasonably well; Boateng's enforced substitution for Mustafi was less successful. The Sampdoria player was at fault for the 1-1 equaliser, and his introduction had a second negative effect: he denied Low the option to make two more attacking substitutions. Andre Schurrle would have been earmarked for a late introduction due to his pace, but Klose had a positive impact as well.
The game, so open and exhausting, showed that substitutes will play a huge role in this competition going forward. Fortunately for Germany, it is well-stocked and has character, too.