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The Germany 2014 World Cup winning squad: Where are they now?
#1 – Manuel Neuer – Goalkeeper – Bayern Munich
Winning the Golden Glove in 2014, Manuel Neuer was undeniably the best goalkeeper in the world back in 2014 and his name was even in the hat for the Ballon d'Or, coming 3rd with a healthy 15% of the votes, especially considering the freakish talent he was up against with Messi and Ronaldo (who won it) ahead of him.
Nowadays he captains the side to regular Bundesliga titles and is still as quick-reflexed as ever, sensing danger from with predator-like precision and bailing out rare errors from his back line. Injury problems seem to be behind him too, and he’s still holding down the number 1 jersey for the national side.
He’ll undoubted have his eye on a 9th Bundesliga trophy and a 3rd Champion’s League winner’s medal in the next 12 months, being the serial winner he is.
#2 – Kevin Großkreutz – Defender – Free Agent
A lifelong Borussia Dortmund fan-become-legend, nobody on this list’s star has fallen quite like that of Großkreutz.
Having left the side he adored in 2015, things went downhill faster than a Sadio Mane hattrick; some factors out of his hands, but other issues were firmly of his own ridiculous doing. First came the paperwork issue as the big bossmen at Galatasary failed to submit the relevant documents in time, meaning the defender was ineligible to feature until January 1st. FIFA rejected any appeal and Großkreutz collected his paycheck before returning to Germany on January 6th without a single showing for the Turkish club.
It was Stuttgart who bought him back home and the player looked happy to be back on the field, but the club were unable to retain their Bundesliga status, finishing 17th and being relegated for the first time in 41 years. The worst was yet to come though…
Four days after being in a bar fight which saw he and a 16-year old be taken to hospital and a further four suspects arrested, the club terminated Kevin’s contract by mutual consent. “I made a mistake and for that I’m very sorry. I accept the consequences and regret that my time at Stuttgart has come to an end in this way,” said Großkreutz before adding “I don’t want anything to do with football for the time being.”
One month later, he signed for Darmstadt 98. Make of that what you will.
Recently e was kicked out of Uerdingen and has now sued the club over outstanding salary payments. Additionally he has resigned as manager of Landesliga (6th tier) club Türkspor Dortmund which he coached for a year. The man lives for the drama.
#3 – Matthias Ginter – Defender – Borussia Mönchengladbach
The youngest player on this list, Matthias Ginter was just 20 when he was selected for the World Cup squad following an impressive season with Freiburg.
After the World Cup he signed for Borussia Dortmund before switching to his current club, Mönchengladbach, in 2017 where he has performed to a very strong level, helping the side return to the Champion’s League last season, a feat the side will be looking to repeat in the 20-21 campaign.
#4 – Benedikt Höwedes – Defender – Retired
Here he is then, the first of the retirees and a bonafide Schalke legend.
Höwedes somewhat surprisingly featured in every single minute of the 2014 triumph, along with Neuer and captain Philipp Lahm – he was exceptionally reliable and versatile, slotting into the left back role with ease and providing the solid performances expected of him throughout. He almost opened the scoring in the final too, his header cannoning off the post late in the first half, placing him centimeters from immortality.
Having racked up 240 professional games for Schalke, a vast number of which as captain, he departed on loan to Juventus in 2017. Sadly, the injuries had caught up with him incredibly quickly, resulting in Höwedes only being able to feature in 3 games for the Italian champions.
A move to Lokomotiv Moscow followed, ending his 17-year affiliation with Schalke. After two seasons in Russia, the club and player agreed to terminate his contract by mutual consent due to family reasons with his retirement arriving less than two months later, on July 31st of this year.
#5 – Mats Hummels – Defender – Borussia Dortmund
Another sure-fire legend of the professional game; Mats Hummels has been a leader at the heart of every defensive line he’s featured within. Scoring a couple of goals at the tournament, including the vital winner against France in the quarters, Hummels was a shining light of this German era.
A Bayern youth player, Mats made the unholy switch back to the champions in 2016 following over 200 games for BVB. There, he would win three league titles, adding to his two previous collected with Dortmund, before making the £30 million return to the yellow and black, where he remains today, having had a wonderful season back towards the peak of his elegant defensive powers.
Most noteworthy however, is that he was one of three veteran players (alongside Jérôme Boateng and Thomas Müller) who Löw would no longer be considering for selection as of 2019. Many have questioned this decision, especially given Germany’s less-than-consistent performances over the past couple of years, but the finger sniffer has held firm, and Hummels hasn’t featured in the national side since 2018.
#6 – Sami Khedira – Midfielder – Juventus
The ticking midfield maestro at the heart of the 2014 midfield, Khedira had another exceptional tournament to follow on from his 2010 success which saw him move to Real Madrid, where he won everything Spanish football has to offer.
As his contract expired with Madrid, he was picked up by Juventus, in typical free transfer fashion. A consistent performer in Italy, introducing others into play delightfully, he’s managed a tidy amount of goals over his five-year Italian tenure too.
Injuries have really started to ramp up however, and his legs are getting heavier on the field, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him depart The Old Lady come the end of his contract in summer.
#7 – Bastian Schweinsteiger – Midfielder – Retired
Rightly hailed by Joachim Löw as one of the greatest footballers Germany has ever produced, Bastian Schweinsteiger enjoyed an illustrious career at Bayern Munich, racking up 500 games across all competitions and playing a variety of important roles through the years.
For many, he was man of the match in the 2014 final. Man-marking Messi out of the game for massive periods, controlling the midfield and launching attacks from deep – without him, the result could have been very different. Truly his finest hour.
Post World Cup injury issues became ever clearer (this is becoming a bit of a theme, isn’t it), and with his career in Germany winding down, a switch to Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United army ensued. Sadly though, he struggled to pick up the pace the side demanded, and it never really felt like he achieved what was hoped of him at Old Trafford. Mourinho’s arrival spelt the end for the German, being harshly treated and effectively pushed out of the squad and placed on the unwanted list.
As a result, he moved to Chicago Fire in the MLS and performed really well, seemingly having a new lease of life as he looked to guide the club to World Cup victory, if some journalists are to be believed…
Retirement in 2019 followed and he now works as a pundit, casting his footballing brain across the airwaves.
#8 – Mesut Özil – Midfielder – Arsenal During the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, and for every season in between, Mesut Özil was one of the finest players on the planet; a serial assister who glided across the pitch with craftsmenship and fluidity like no other, he was the heartbeat of the attack for Germany, Real Madrid and Arsenal.
Having experienced massive success at Werder Bremen and Real Madrid, his move to Arsenal in 2013 was met with glee, as another giant of the game was set to make a splash in the Premier League – and splash he did. It’s easy to forget due to Arsenal’s turgid recent years, that for many years Özil way THE man for Arsenal.
Nowadays, he’s sometimes not even bench warming, and instead is smashing Fortnite whilst collecting his £350,000 per week and failing to make any sort of impact within the plans of Arteta and Unai Emery before him.
The real controversy lies in his retirement from the national team though.
After being pictured with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (along with İlkay Gündoğan) fans were outraged, as the image was seen as an endorsement of the president’s highly controversial policies. The DFB publicly distance themselves from the situation, but following a frankly horrendous 2018 World Cup campaign, the issue reared its head again.
Özil addressed the concerns, stating that they solely discussed football, not politics, and that he was simply respecting the office of his family’s nation. He even battled back by zoning in on a potential lack of criticism received by Lothar Matthäus, who had met with Russian president Vladimir Putin before going on to accuse Reinhard Grindel, the DFB president, of racism. He promptly stepped down from the nation side in protest of his treatment, sparking yet more criticism in the direction of the Arsenal attacking midfielder.
Nothing has changed since, but there was that occasion in 2019 when Erdoğan was best man at Özil’s wedding. I’m sure they only spoke about football though…
#9 – André Schürrle – Forward – Retired
The man who assisted that famous winning goal, André Schürrle, has experienced a turbulent career following the World Cup win.
Leaving Chelsea in 2015 having never cemented his place in the starting line-up, he moved to Wolfsburg for approximately £22 million, performing to a high level in the green shirt and pushing him back towards the very top of his game. The result, a move to Borussia Dortmund for another sizeable fee but again his career took a nosedive.
Injuries struck, and alongside it, poor performances.
A loan move to Fulham showed promise, including a banging goal against Burnley, but he wasn’t the player Premier League had witnessed 4 years prior as Fulham dropped down to the Championship at the first time of asking. Another loan to Spartak Moscow failed to spark an upturn in form and retirement followed at just 29 years of age, with Schürrle stating that he no longer wanted to face the loneliness and endless competition of top-tier football.
A beauty to watch on his day, it’s a real shame he never quite acheievd what was anticipated of him. At least we’ll always have that assist, and that performance against Brazil in the infamous 7-1, everyone else had downed tools, but Schürrle, brilliantly, was having none of that.
#10 – Lukas Podolski – Forward – Antalyaspor
Despite playing a bit-part in this crowning moment for his country, Lukas Podolski will live long in the memory of German fans, with wonderful World Cup campaigns in both 2006 and 2010 and a team of the tournament appearance at Euro 2008.
The King of Köln, possessing unreal speed a foot like a traction engine, often saved his very best for the German national side, and is a cult hero for many across the globe. Having played in Germany, England, Italy and Japan and now Turkey with Antalyaspor, the man is best known for his dual spells at FC Köln where he racked up a mightily impressive 79 league goals, using his explosive pace to maximum effect in the Bundesliga.
Nowadays, when he’s not appearing in the Turkish Süper Lig, he putting his well-earned cash to a good cause, having founded the Lukas Podolski Foundation for Sport and Education which aims to give prospects to disadvantaged children and young people, fight child poverty, and promote social inclusion and integration and understanding among nations.
#11 – Miroslav Klose – Forward – Retired
I simply cannot do this man justice in words.
The all-time leading goal scorer in World Cup history, having converted in the famous 7-1 demolition of Brazil (surpassing Ronaldo Nazário’s as he went), Klose retired from the national side following his greatest triumph.
Whilst well-regarded as a scoring machine for both club and country, he is often boxed in as simply an aerial threat when in reality, he is far more than that. Possessing a rapid change of pace, strong build-up abilities and ultimately, some of the finest movement you’re ever likely to see, Klose was a complete striker. Plus, he could even pull off a somersault celebration, and what’s not to love about that.
Spending almost his entire club career in Germany, he eventually retired at Lazio with, as expected, a solid scoring record.
Having been part of the national side’s coaching set-up, he is now second-in-command to the incredible Hansi Flick at Bayern, where his tactical nous is certain to help him to flourish into a blooming boss in future.
#12 – Ron-Robert Zieler – Goalkeeper – FC Köln
Imagine making your professional debut with Northampton Town and ending up in a World Cup winning squad. That’d be bloody mint.
A Manchester United youth prospect, Zieler carved out a fantastic career for himself. The goalkeeper made over 200 appearances across two spells for Hannover and had a strong season with Stuttgart before a second tricky term, when he scored a calamitous own goal against Bremen. Caught out pulling his socks up when a throw-in came his way, he miscontrolled the ball and was forced to dive in vain as the ball trickled into the net. If that isn’t legacy, I don’t know what is.
Now he sits happily on the bench for FC Köln, but if Timo Horn continues his current form, he could find himself between the sticks once more.
#13 – Thomas Müller – Forward – Bayern Munich
The Bundesliga champion, assist master, space-invader, world cup top scorer, Germany centurion. What can be said about Müller that hasn’t been already. He’s perennially underrated, being one of the finest and most consistent players of a generation.
Aged just 24 when the 2014 contest rolled around, he had already accumulated 49 international appearances, and followed on from his destruction of England and Argentina in 2010 with another 5 goals at the finals, pairing a silver boot with his previous gold in South Africa.
The man has hardly missed a beat since, with his only real blip coinciding with the turbulent tenure of Niko Kovač. Now at 30 years of age, he’s leading Bayern to yet more league glory, with this year’s Champion’s League being a cherry atop his sporting cake.
As mentioned earlier however, Müller has been frozen out of the Germany squad by Joachim Löw, seemingly one of the scapegoats of the group stage exit in Russia. He stated that he was “angry and surprised” by the dropping of himself and his fellow teammates and given his incredible form (particularly this past season) it is more than understandable as to why.
#14 – Julian Draxler – Midfielder – Paris Saint-Germain
Destined for great things was young Julian. You’d have found him floating around the top of many a top prospect lists around the time of the tournament in Brazil; and whilst he’s had a more than respectable career in many a sense, he hasn’t truly hit the heights expected of him during those early Schalke days.
After moving onto Wolsburg for a hefty sum, it felt like Draxler was set to kick his career into the upper gears, helping the club reach the Champion’s League quarter finals for the first time ever. However, the club felt he had not met up to the lofty expectations and Draxler duly wished to move on.
Offers arrived but it would take until Christmas Eve later that year when PSG would stump up €42 million to secure his services, ending what the midfielders described as “the worst first half of a season of my career.”
He only made 20 appearances across all competitions for the French capital club in the previous term, without registering a single goal. Maybe the farmers have too much for him and again, it may be time to move on.
#15 – Erik Durm – Defender – Eintracht Frankfurt
When I heard Huddersfield Town were signing former World Cup winning defender you better believe my fantasy football senses were tingling off the charts.
The tingling was short lived. Huddersfield finished bottom and Durm was an absolute shadow of the player many Yorkshire fans had expected. But enough about the bad part, let’s hear some good. With BVB he had some good times, racking up a tidy half century of appearances in the yellow and black, and now he’s back in the Bundesliga with Frankfurt where he hopes to reignite his career on home soil.
#16 – Philipp Lahm – Defender – Retired
Captaining a side as gargantuan as this is no easy task, and there aren’t too many captains that measure up to the golden goose that is Philipp Lahm.
Lahm was the ultimate in high-level versatility, playing in the back line and midfield, with technical ability and tackling acumen on either foot – he’s also one of the most tactically intelligent players I’ve ever had the joy of watching, always appearing in the correct position and barely breaking stride to disrupt opposition moves.
At the World Cup he was imperious, starring in multiple positions and staking his claim as one of the best players at the tournament. Watching him lift the trophy (a first for unified Germany) was a joy to be hold and the highlight of a career that included a multitude of awards.
Should he move into management, I have no doubt he would be a success, given his second-to-none understanding of the game. Plus, he’s a wonderful man, helping to support a number of charities and advocating for tolerance of homosexuality in football.
#17 – Per Mertesacker – Defender – Retired
Back in the day Per Mertesacker was one of the most effective centre backs in Europe. At Hannover and Werder Bremen he established himself as a sensible centre back with an exceptional understanding of the game and disciplinary record. Obviously dominant in the air (being a whopping 6 foot 7) it is often forgotten how cool the man was with the ball at his feet – sure, he has a lack of pace, but was rarely caught out in the Bundesliga or internationally.
At the German World Cup in 2006, the 2008 Euros and the 2010 World Cup Mertesacker was a regular feature, showing a strong partnership with Christian Metzelder at the heart of defence. The emergence of Mats Hummels, Holger Badstuber and Jérôme Boateng ultimately played into the stepping back of Mertesacker, but he’ll be fondly remembered at international level. At Arsenal, he was a great leader and player, but injuries derailed his later years.
His performance in the 2017 FA Cup final will live long in the memory – having not started all season, he rolled back the years and put in a titanic performance, leading Arsenal to yet another FA Cup triumph. He’s still at Arsenal now, as he manages the academy and continues to showcase his professionalism and desire to the next generation.
#18 – Toni Kroos – Midfielder – Real Madrid
You obviously don’t win the World Cup nowadays without a premium squad, but the stacked level of this squad this squad is just absurd.
At the time of the tournament Kroos was still a Bayern player, moving to Madrid shortly after and continuing his meteoric to the top of the midfield tree. His incredible performance in that 7-1 demolition was a huge statement on the biggest stage, yet he still somehow moved for just under £30 million. One of the transfers of the millennium without a doubt.
He’s been a constant at the spine of the side since, forming a fruitful relationship with both Casemiro and Modric, helping to capture La Decima, the first of a hattrick of Champion’s League trophies for Toni in white.
And he’s still doing it to this day, dictating tempo, snaffling attacks and scoring the occasional banger (see Germany v Sweden at the Russia World Cup), simply put, he can do it all and we’re incredibly lucky to be able to witness a player of his calibre week in, week out.
#19 – Mario Götze – Midfielder – Free Agent
From a talent fully realised, to one who was destined for so much more.
After coming off the bench in the final and quite brilliantly squeezing home the winning extra time goal Götze had punched a one-way ticket to mega stardom, individual awards and championship glory throughout his career.
And whilst much of this success reigns true, the train much have gotten a little lost en route to the destination. A mixture of less-than-incredible form and ultimately, a metabolic disorder which causes the fibres of the muscles to not function correct, meant young Mario pulled into the station a few stops short of the all-time greats.
Now he’s a free agent, and the versatile forward could be of some use to a number of Bundesliga sides, depending on who can afford his wage demands. Who knows what the future will hold for the 28 year old, but I’m sure everyone hopes he’ll be able to somehow rediscover that electric form that put him on the roadmap in the first place.
#20 – Jérôme Boateng – Defender – Bayern Munich
The younger brother of Ghana’s Kevin Prince-Boateng, Jérôme backed his abilities when leaving Manchester City in search of more playing time in central defence, rather the being farmed out at right back.
People weren’t sure he was good enough, but not only did he talk the talk, he walked the walk, ran the run and showed everyone in England exactly what they had been missing, becoming one of the most decorated defenders the game has ever seen along the way.
Sure, there have been some downs (mainly Kovač dropping him and Messi imploding his ankles with the force of one thousand suns) but its been a career in Germany full of ups, including last season. With David Alaba moving to centre back, Boateng was imperious, cleaning up attacks and helping build from the base of Bayern’s traditional 4-2-3-1, helping the side add yet another European trophy to their illustrious cabinet.
This year will be more of a challenge than the last given Flick’s pancake-thin squad, but Boateng will likely shine once again before inevitably moving to Manchester United as his decline hits.
#21 – Shkodran Mustafi – Defender – Arsenal
Everton > Sampdoria > Valencia > Arsenal – Shkodran Mustafi has had quite the memorable career path thus far.
Eligible to represent Germany, North Macedonia and Albania, Mustafi made the right choice in opting to appear for his birth nation, appearing as a substitute throughout the 2014 tournament, and getting his hands on sport’s greatest prize.
Following the tournament, he moved to Spain and was one of the standout centre backs in La Liga, hence why Arsenal came sniffing for his signature. Surprising as it may be, he hasn’t always been the meme player he is now and he’s definitely shown a return to form under Arteta, whether he’s the standard they require anymore remains to be see, but this season will likely tell all.
#22 – Roman Weidenfeller – Goalkeeper – Retired
Another Dortmund legend, Roman Weidenfeller was unfortunate to only total 5 international games for Germany, largely due to the wealth of goalkeeping talent they’ve had the pleasure of selecting from throughout the years.
Having played for the black and yellow club from 2002 to 2018 he was the number one choice for many a year, until being overhauled by current keeper, Roman Bürki.
Still on the payroll at the club, he continues to work for BVB as an international ambassador.
#23 – Christoph Kramer – Midfielder – Borussia Mönchengladbach
Last but absolutely not least, it’s the man who had the weirdest experience of the final by far.
Starting his first game at the tournament due to Sami Khedira’s last minute injury, he suffered a concussion early in the match following a collision with Argentinian defender Garay, eventually being replaced by André Schürrle. The real kicker was that Kramer spent 14 minutes charging about the pitch in typical fashion before famously asking the referee whether it was the final that he was playing in, prompting his much-needed substitution.
Providing strength and leadership in the centre of the park, Kramer now turns out for Mönchengladbach where he is soon to rack up a century of appearances.
A Hater's Guide to EURO Qualifying / 2018 Year in Review (insert Soccer flair here)
This will be a little different from the standard Haters Guide, as I'll be breaking down the groups and major teams recent fortunes in light cliff notes form instead of going in full on everyone. Even if half the team previews would be some variation of "You're fucked", its still soul consuming to talk about a bunch of uninspiring Tier II or III Euro sides, even if they have a chance to go far because voodoo seeding magic. This will instead be an overview of the relevant teams and how they're looking so far. Lets get to it.
GROUP A: England, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Kosovo
~To the shock of all 55 million of their cynical supporters, England came through big in the Nations League groups with a pair of crucial wins at the end to secure a Final 4 berth. England's reward for such endeavours will probably be a torching from Portugal and another easy group to qualify for a tournament in. Over the next year and a bit, England's goal will be to shore up the defense, figure out how to make a functional midfield out of their varying pieces, and hope that the English media decides not to de-person Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford. Gareth Southgate has done good in rallying the troops and clearly looks like the right man for the job........ which means he'll be sacked after a quarterfinal exit in Qatar because reasons. Hopefully Frank Lampard does a good enough job managing clubs to step right in. Either way England needs to retain someone who knows what went wrong with the "Golden Generation", instead of hiring a foreign mercenary who will fall into the same traps Sven and Capello fell into trying to bring the team together. A decisive and steady hand at the top who commands respect from the players and makes everyone know their role is what England needs to stabilize the Premiership egos. To be fair this team doesn't seem to have clashing personalities on the level of the 2000s, so maybe they can make this work. Maybe.
~As for the rest of this group...... eeeeech. I'm personally hoping Kosovo uses its credible league underdog upset powers to roll over everyone and finish second, but theres a lot of uninspiring dross here. The Czechs haven't been relevant since the early 2000s and need some generational talents to crop up to reach that peak again. Instead they get a midfield captain who plays in the MLS, I mean COME ON. At least get him somewhere more credible like the Championship with Sheffield Wednesday. Also Bulgaria's got nothing going on and Montenegro got the worst of the split from Serbia. England shouldn't blow this group, so lets hope for something positive from Kosovo and that a few players get jobs in the English leagues out of this.
GROUP B: Portugal, Ukraine, Serbia, Lithuania, Luxembourg
~So early in the preview we get the first reasonably tough group. Ukraine and Serbia may end up qualifying via Nations League anyways, but both teams should probably try to be safe rather than sorry. Serbia got refballed by the Swiss at the World Cup and there were rumours of FA interference in setting up the team. If their dumbass fans stay out of the teams way and don't dock them points though, they'll be a threat. The team looks flush with credible league players, especially in the midfield, and Aleksandar Mitrovic is a goal in 2 games striker up front for the NT. The main question mark is in goal if Vladimir Stojkovic retires soon, not to mention hes playing in a bad league and would be disqualified from future consideration anyways if Serbia had any depth at that position. Regardless, Serbia still looks like a sure bet to make it to Euros via either path but from there, who knows?
~As for Ukraine, things are........ a little more complicated. Shaktar Donetsk's weird Brazilian pipeline and finances gives their league a sexy surface gloss of credibility, but the NT and the country itself have seen big changes since the WC in 2010. The problem now is up front, where the options are veteran Turkish league journeymen, green youth, or hope the wingers Yarmolenko and Konoplyanka are around to do a thing. The latter one will work less due to Yarmolenko being out early on with an Achilles tear. If he comes back as a permanently lesser player things do not look good. The former national talisman in Andriy Shevchenko is doing the managing now, and needs to figure out a way to get this team some goals if the defense breaks down. There is some serious firepower in the other favourites, and Ukraine may struggle to keep pace. You also have a tough path for Nations League B with Edin Dzeko and Christian Eriksen lurking. Good luck.
~Portugal don't think we forgot about you! You still have FUCKING PEPE ON THE TEAMSHEET. AND HE WAS YOUR CAPTAIN AGAINST POLAND?!?! What was his locker room team talk like? Did he tell everyone to two foot the nearest player and then dive afterwards? You dropped Bruno Alves like a hot potato and even if Pepe somehow goes through some games without incidents, hes still 35. He won't be around for Qatar, and you need to start bringing in the younger players now to get them to gel. Also its worth noting that Ronaldo did not make a single appearance in the Nations League and is........ currently dealing with some messy sexual assault allegations...... hoo boy. You better hope Andre Silva keeps scoring at a 1 in 2 pace, otherwise you have no shot at a Euro repeat.
GROUP C: Netherlands, Germany, Northern Ireland, Estonia, Belarus
~Besides the Cleveland Cavaliers, did any team have a swifter fall from grace this year than the German NT? As if the brutal World Cup campaign and Mesut Ozil retiring to political posturing over Turkey wasn't bad enough, the team flamed out in the Nations League to a Dutch team deep in the rebuild, and still lack stability in the midfield and defense. Even with a soft group to likely qualify from, this team still needs to get its shit together to achieve anything in the coming tournaments. Like the Eagles, winning the big one may have been the worst thing to happen to the team for their short term future, and they may need the good ol' "culture change" to get back to normal contender status. I'm not sure we're ready for a footballing world with an underachieving German team, but it seems the rest of the countries who have been held back by the Germans are DEFINITELY ready for it. I don't have any grudge against Germany, but I will die laughing if this team drops points to Northern Ireland. Maybe THAT could get Joachim Low fired......
~Netherlands I don't know what the hell to make of you. I wanted to revisit that case in a couple of years and see if the Dutch could get things together with a new wave of talent, but then you caught France on the hop and Germany on a sustained hangover. Now you probably have a high seed for future events, and a soft group to make it back to the Euros with. I'm just not sold on Virgil Van Dijk and Memphis Depay as the core players. Depay in particular has been rumoured to have some attitude problems and inconsistency. Even if they were magnified in the harsh spotlight of the Premier League, and even if hes turning things around for Lyon, do you really build an attack around him? You've had success in the past building around tempermental talent, but I doubt anyone thinks hes at the level of a Van Basten or a Robben, let alone Cryuff. Theres at least some promise behind with guys like De Ligt, Kluivert, and maybe Fosu-Mensah and Frenkie de Jong, but this does not seem like peak Dutch vintage. At least you're better off than you were from 2015 to 2017?
~Much as I'd like Northern Ireland to pull off some upsets, it probably isn't happening. They took a beating in Nations League B and clearly can't hold superior sides off using the old-school defensive British Isles tactics. The strike force is Championship journeymen and a beat-up Kyle Lafferty, with no notable youth getting pushed forward by the team. Hope you enjoyed your cup of coffee with success in 2016 lads, now its back to complaining about other Ireland stealing your players.
GROUP D: Switzerland, Denmark, Ireland, Georgia, Gibraltar
~Meh, nothing to get excited about here. Swiss optimism is no doubt high after the shocking thrashing of Belgium in the Nations League to win their group. The issue is that Hans Serefovic may have gotten that hat trick against a defense too old and broken down to give a fuck, and you're still reliant on the Great Value version of generational talents in your midfield. Denmark should be right there with them based on the World Cup unless the strike flares up again, or something happens to Christian Eriksen or Kasper Schmeichel. But Jesus Christ Denmark do SOMETHING about that strike force.
~One thing does need to be said in this group however: Ireland is looking godawful. They beat Wales to get into a playoff for WC qualification then got blown out 4-1 in the Nations League. This has led to managers Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane being marched to the guillotine. The roster looks completely cooked and the scoring cupboard is bare once you take out Shane Long and Johnathan Walters......not that either player was good anyways. Even if Ireland slogs out a couple draws with Denmark, they're more liable to drop points to Georgia (which did happen in WC qualifying). Hell, Ireland could somehow struggle to break down Gibraltar for all we know.
~The sad part is this weaker group could end up getting two Nations League winners in the Swiss and Georgia and three qualifiers to the Euros. Yikes.
GROUP E: Croatia, Wales, Slovakia, Hungary, Azerbaijan
~Wales and Croatia may top the group in seeding but both teams are staring into the edge of the abyss. Croatia has already lost Mandzukic and Subasic, and the rest of the core is aged 29 or older. They need to strike now before they get too old for the World Cup. The Euros may be the last chance for Croatia to win something before they have to restart with a new core under bigger expectations. Hopefully the fans can cling to the memories of that magical 2018 run.......
~As for Wales, they face the unpleasant prospect of wasting their second generational talent in Gareth Bale. The 2018 WC qualification campaign was an absolute DISASTER for the Welsh, as they blew a winnable group to Serbia and Ireland.......... after drawing half their games and dropping points to fucking Austria and Georgia. Wales had a chance of sneaking into the World Cup and even making it to the Round of 16 with the right draw, but had to sit at home instead and watch England achieve their best result in over 25 years. The time is now to win before Bale gets too old and too destroyed by the Madrid media. You've got some young diamonds in the rough that need to gain experience quickly, some veteranosity at the backline, support in Aaron Ramsey, and a reasonably steady keeper in Wayne Hennessey. DON'T FUCK IT UP! Gareth Bale does NOT deserve to have the same international career as Ryan Giggs. (And yes Giggs did not deserve that either)
~But hey surely those Slovakia guys will steal a spot from you. Just look at all that talent! Marek Hamsik! Marek Hamsik! Marek Hamsik! Did we mention Marek Hamsik? And look at that awesome support he has........AN MLS MIDFIELDER AND A PAIR OF CYPRUS LEAGUE STRIKERS?!?! BAHAHAHAHAHAHA! (Cue Simpsons you're stupid guy laughing)
(Did I forget about Hungary? I hope so.)
GROUP F: Spain, Sweden, Norway, Romania, Faroe Islands, Malta
~Meh, nothing much to get excited about here. Some Reddit pundits think theres a chance for Norway and Romania but I'm not buying it. Sweden has gotten a lot of credible wins over the past year and are also a bet to make it in via Nations League after a hiccup against Turkey to start. Emil Forsberg has not panned out for them and Marcus Berg may be lynched if he misses another sitter, but at least 20 fringe countries would kill to have Sweden's recent results. The steady Robin Olsen and the 8 men behind the ball troll tactics you had at the World Cup should see you through to the Euros and a Round of 16 elimination. Enjoy.
~As for Spain, they had a rough showing against Morocco and Russia in the World Cup and got bounced out by England in the Nations League, but things should pick up soon. That World Cup was a wash for Spain anyways due to all the managerial shenanigans and a poor tournament from David De Gea. Spain should be at least a fringe contender for another few years if this new core doesn't fall off a cliff.......... and if the FA and Spanish political landscape don't interfere with Luis Enrique doing his job. Good luck Luis. Don't let this second hot seat burn you to death.
~Hey by the way how did that Julen Lopetegui move to Real Madrid that got him fired from Spain work out anyways?
(Julen gets canned after 6 losses in 14 games)
OH GOD. Hope you had fun being burned at the stake Julen! Should've looked that gift horse in the mouth.............
~Also I'll sign off this group with a message to Romania: FUCK OFF WITH THE ULTRAS. You went down the racist Serbian route and had a few Nations League matches played behind closed doors with Carolina Hurricanes-level attendance. Keep this up and UEFA may take you for a spin on the wheel of discipline, and dock your dumb asses some points. Also do yourselves a favour and discover the next Gheorghie Hagi so you can rebuild your league and your national team already, that'll work too.
GROUP G: Poland, Austria, Israel, Slovenia, Macedonia, Latvia
~Wait, this can't be the actual group right? This is some seriously fake news. Lemme double check this......
refreshes Euro page
ARE YOU SHITTING ME!? YOU CALL THIS A GROUP!? What the FUCK!? Poland and Austria don't deserve their placement in the current pots, and they get gifted a sham group that will continue to inflate their rankings? Serbia is possibly better than BOTH these teams and they sit in Pot 3 with some no hopers and fringe contenders. I don't have any special dislike towards either country but COME ON! Israel, Slovenia, and maybe Macedonia, I don't care about you guys either, but just to normalize the seeding a little I hope you take some points from these guys, and show the world what a farce these qualification draws can be.
~Oh you want a preview? Fine, here it is: Lewandowski tries to create goal scoring opportunities with questionable support, and Austria coasts off maybe three relevant players to a Euro group stage drowning. Now lets move onto some actual contenders.
GROUP H: France, Iceland, Turkey, Albania, Moldova, Andorra
~..........Ok, this is better for talking points at least. This group is an interesting one for France, because it gives us a chance to see how bad the World Cup hangover really is. France has been on a rollercoaster of sorts since the heyday of Michel Platini, with some really great performances, followed by some really awful performances, followed by a rebound, then another crash, then a rebound again. France could've headed downhill after a decent showing in 2014 and 2016, but instead took the big step forward and won the World Cup. The Nations League could've been a second tournament win in as many years, but they bowed out in the group stages to the Dutch, of all teams. Now comes the test of their consistency against some middling competition. If the French keep an even keel through qualifying and play strongly at the Euros, then they've turned a corner. If they drop serious points and flame out.......well, imagine the shrill bitching Pogba and Griezmann recieve in the media when they do anything, then multiply it by the entire team. For those who don't want complacency or collapses you better pray that Kylian Mbappe keeps developing. (Also have fun with those PSG leaks.)
~Iceland, I have some bad news. That mild optimism I had in the Nations League preview? Yeah, turns out I wasn't informed that your new manager Erik Hamren is a total gas can who shouldn't have the job. Iceland's Golden Generation may be forcibly rusted, so I hope those passionate supporters of yours will be happy living off past upset glories. Best to turn your attention to the future and developing youth, because the present does not look good under current management.
~Turkey is in a weird state to me. It seems their national league has a similar sexy surface gloss of credibility like Ukraine, along with the same sort of issues underneath that gloss. Theres even turmoil within the country as a distraction, albeit of a slightly different kind to Ukraine's ongoing mess with Russia. Turkey hasn't really done a lot since the 3rd place in Euro 2008, and they don't seem to have a ton of new youth to lead the renaissance aside from maybe Cengiz Under, Zeki Celik, and probably some youngster in a Turkish league who'll need to transfer to progress his career. The current veterans don't seem to have that spark to propel the team further, and it showed a bit in the Nations League despite a mild upset over Sweden early on. Lets revisit this one in a few years.
~......What, you want me to talk about Albania cause of the credible league factor? Sorry, but any team who loses 4-0 to Scotland in a semi-serious contest isn't worth more than 3 sentences in a recap. Have fun getting more players poached due to nationality rules!
GROUP I: Belgium, Russia, Scotland, Cyprus, Kazakhstan, San Marino
~Hey Belgium, thanks for that nice 5-2 loss to the Swiss that jinxed my Nations League predictions! Now I have to try to care about Switzerland in the Nations League Haters Guide. Really looking forward to that! I can sorta forgive a loss in the face of injuries to de Bruyne, Lukaku, and half the starting defense, that makes sense. But you beat these guys 2-1 at home and had a 2-0 lead in the first 20 minutes? How can you let yourselves down in a competition like this? HOW!? For the love of god, can you quit choking on the pre-game waffle brunch and DO SOMETHING with this core? Do you really want to supplement this awesome attack with Boyata and the other Lukaku holding the fort behind them in a few years? Just blow this group out and win the damn Euros already.
~Russia could have a chance to play spoiler again here. Russia fell a bit short against Sweden in the Nations League, but they have a certain grit and quality to the team as of late that makes them hard to pass on as an upset pick. If they keep a healthy midfield, find a replacement for Igor Akinfeev, and magic bullshit goals out of Artem Dzyuba and whoever the hell Russia's putting in the attack these days, they could make some noise in the Euros.
~Scotland may be getting a Legacy of Failure post if I ever find anyone to fact-check my ranting, and a blown qualification effort here followed by a loss of the Nations League could write yet another chapter in it. You have two goalkeepers over 35 and a sprinkling of Premiership players to complement the substandard domestic league offerings. You also have Johnny Russell getting 9 caps because.........I don't fucking know. Get him out of there and replace him with literally anyone else please. We have narratives to maintain, and we need as few people in the MLS as possible tarnishing this pristine stage of international football.
GROUP H: Italy, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Finland, Greece, Armenia, Liechtenstein
~And here at the end we have one of the toughest groups in qualification. Thats tough for the viewer AND the teams involved. Italy vs Greece twice? Better plan your sleep patterns around that shit. Italy is in tough in this group, as the Mario Balotelli experiment may have been aborted early in the Nations League. For all the identity Italy has around defence, the fact \remains that they have never won things without high-end threat of some variety in the final third. Are you going to seriously trot out guys like Immobile and Insigne and call them your international standard attackers? They're like the guys you tack on a roster in FIFA Ultimate Team for the chemistry bonus. Still, even though you drew some of the stronger teams in each pot, you might come out of this ok. Luckily, you did avoid sides like Denmark and Sweden that have a higher chance of playing along with a 0-0 and forcing you to drop points. If you can retool in time for 2020 you may once again reach default contender status.
~Meanwhile, Bosnia is on one of the better runs of success in the history of their nation, taking advantage of a soft group draw in the Nations League to run wild and secure a place in the final 4. Austria and Northern Ireland are nothing special, but you at least got a platform for your generational talent Edin Dzeko to shine on, as he approaches his well-earned 100th cap. If you get the goalkeeper Begovic and the crucial midfield piece Miralem Pjanic back from injuries, you've got a solid shot at keeping form and getting a ticket to the Euros. Good luck against the Italians. May you be free from the permanent hell that is Slavic team inconsistency.
~Finland is being hyped up as having the best team they've had since the heyday or Jari Litmanen and Sami Hyppia. Looking at the roster though, I'm not buying it. Theres a couple useful pieces, and you've got a rock solid keeper in Lukas Hradecky, but I'm questioning the lack of players in credible leagues. Perhaps the roster adds up to more than the sum of its parts, perhaps there are players here who just haven't gotten the break, but am I really supposed to be inspired by your best striker being from Norwich City? Will Joel Pohjanpalo ever come back form that injury? Also why did you give 74 caps to players in that damn MLS again? Regardless, against a potentially toothless Italy you have a chance of scraping a couple draws, which means that the fixtures against Bosnia will likely determine the fate of this new wave team. Good luck.
~Greece is in a real state of flux at the moment. Last Euro qualification was a cataclyzmic failure that saw losses to the Faroe Islands and Claudio Ranieri being ran out of the country like a common pygmy. He then went on to win a Premiership title with Leicester City in one of the best moments in the history of sports just because. Greece has struggled over this past year with losses to Saudi Arabia, Estonia, and Hungary, not to mention a loss against their group rival Finland. The defense is still as obstinate as ever, but when it cracks Greece seems to struggle at chasing the game unless they get a good set piece or Kostas Mitroglou does a thing. 2004 Euros look like a wet dream that won't be seen again, but Greece does have the chance of stealing points against Italy and disrupting the table.
~Armenia has a discount generational talent in Henrikh Mkhitaryan......and no one else. You blew a major shot at success in the Nations League, so you need to hope the countries ahead of you shit the bed to improve your seeding for the World Cup. Have fun being near the cellar.
Thus ends this wall of text and another year of European footy! Now open wide and watch UEFA laugh in your faces!