Germany all right on the night
Many heads were hung or shaken, many brows were furrowed, and quite a few shoulders were shrugged on Sunday. The German players were clearly unhappy with both the performance and the result against Cameroon. Kicker magazine's headline read: "Loew still has a lot of work to do."
None of this came as a surprise. It's almost the norm that Germany botch one of their final two games before the start of a big tournament.
Just think back two years. In May 2012, Joachim Loew's side were beaten 5-3 by Switzerland in their penultimate match before the European championship. It was the Swiss' first win against their bigger neighbours since 1956. Kicker's headline: "Defensive disaster!"
And four years before that, in May 2008, Germany wasted a 2-0 lead against Belarus and had to settle for a very disappointing 2-2 draw in Kaiserslautern. An alarmed Bild directly addressed the national coach: "Jogi, there's a lot to do!" Even Kicker, usually reserved and sober, said "Harzard! Major alarm!"
However, in both ensuing tournaments, Germany eventually reached (at least) the semifinals. So maybe a hiccup in the build-up is actually a good sign? A lot of evidence supports that theory.
In May 2006, Naohiro Takahara scored a brace for Japan in Leverkusen, and it took two late German goals to salvage a draw that left everyone unconvinced and gave no indication of what came to be known as the Sommermaerchen, the miracle summer.
In May 2002, Germany lost the penultimate game before the World Cup in Asia against Wales. Less than 20 seconds into the second half, Robert Earnshaw kept possession under pressure from Christian Ziege and Christoph Metzelder and fired the ball in. Earnshaw was a third-division player at the time. Kicker said Germany "left an abysmal and frightening impression."
But again, both tournaments brought (at least) a berth in the semifinals. The list is almost endless. Germany lost the penultimate game before Euro 96 (against France) and went on to win the title in England. They failed to win their final game before Euro 92, against a Northern Ireland side that had been held to a draw by Faroe Islands during the qualifiers. But still Germany reached the final in Sweden.
So should we conclude that the worse the preparation matches, the better the eventual performance? In other words, does a bad dress rehearsal indeed foretell it will be all right on opening night?
You shouldn't bet on it. Because two terrible preparations stick out like sore thumbs in Germany's history -- and both were followed by very depressing tournaments.
Let's start with the worst preparation in terms of naked results. It dates from 1978 and was the only time that (West) Germany lost both of their final two official preparation matches ahead of a tournament. Although you have to say that it wasn't quite as bad as it sounds, because the German team met very strong opposition in these two matches: Brazil and Sweden, who had both qualified for the impending World Cup in Argentina.
But not even the level-headed Kicker magazine was willing to grant the side any mitigating circumstances. Following the 1-0 defeat against Brazil in Hamburg, the headline read: "We are certainly no World Cup favourites!" Even though Rainer Bonhof did reasonably well against Zico, and Erich Beer took Roberto Rivellino out of the game, the Brazilian victory was well-deserved.
The only goal of the night came on 76 minutes, when a brilliant one-two unhinged the German defence. Ze Maria cut inside from the right flank, passed the ball to Zico and, without breaking stride, ran into the box. Zico elegantly chipped the ball over two defenders and into Ze Maria's path. Sepp Maier managed to save his shot from close range, but substitute Joao Batista Nunes put the rebound away.
Two weeks later, national coach Helmut Schoen suffered the next setback, and this time he was given a share of the blame. West Germany lost 3-1 to hosts Sweden in Solna, despite taking the lead midway through the first half when Bonhof scored from a set piece. Sweden equalised only three minutes later, through a Rolf Ruessmann own goal, but Germany did pretty well before the break. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, fielded as an offensive midfielder, was the best man on the pitch.
At half-time, Schoen took off goalkeeper Maier and replaced him with Werder Bremen's Dieter Burdenski. It wasn't the reason Germany completely lost the plot in the second half, but it was the reason they lost the game. Sweden dominated the match after the restart, but they needed a series of grave individual mistakes -- mainly from Burdenski, but also from defender Manfred Kaltz -- to score twice through Lennart Larsson, who was then under contract at Schalke.
This time Kicker lamented: "World Cup dress rehearsal thoroughly blown!" If anything, things got worse in South America. The team began the World Cup with a scoreless draw against Poland. Actually, half of the six German games in Argentina finished 0-0. The tournament ended with the match known as the Shame of Cordoba, the 3-2 defeat at the hands of rivals Austria.
The worst preparation match in recent memory in many ways was played almost exactly 10 years ago, in early June 2004. Six days before Euro 2004, the tournament that would prompt national coach Rudi Voeller to resign from his post, Germany hosted Hungary.
The visitors were coached by none other than Lothar Matthaeus. His job was a handful. Hungary lost 2-1 against China shortly before travelling to Kaiserslautern, mainly because no less than 22 (!) players had rejected being called up to the national team for various reasons, among them Hertha's Pal Dardai and Zsolt Loew, then with Cottbus.
Four days before the game, Matthaeus said: "Gabor Kiraly will probably be in goal, but as yet I can't tell you anything about the 10 players in front of him, except that they will have won less than 40 caps. In total." He wasn't exaggerating. Of the 14 men who would see action for Hungary on the night, only three had more than a dozen internationals under their belt. In one sentence, it was a Hungarian reserve team.
In this game, both Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski made their debuts for the national team. (Which, incidentally, is not and has never been known as die Mannschaft in Germany. It's always, and never anything else, die Nationalmannschaft.) One of the reasons the two youngsters came on in the second half was that the veterans had thoroughly embarrassed themselves during the first 45 minutes.
Sandor Torghelle, a 22-year-old striker playing his seventh game for Hungary, ran rings round the German defence. He forced a save from Oliver Kahn with less than two minutes gone and scored twice in the first half hour. Matthaeus' young and inexperienced team won 2-0. The German performance was so abysmal that only Kahn had the guts to walk over to the fans after the final whistle and thank them for their support.
Referring to the imminent anniversary of the 1954 World Cup final, Kicker wrote: "Now we need a miracle." For only the second time since 1978, the gloom-and-doom prophecy was proved right. Germany didn't win a game at Euro 2004 and went home after the group stage.
So you can't really say that bad preparation games invariably lead to good tournaments for Germany. What you can say is that games like the Cameroon match are par for the course.