BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil — Much is made of Brazil’s Jogo Bonito — the Beautiful Game — with its slick passes, hip-swiveling dribblers, joyful celebrations, and internationallyknown stars such as Pelé, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, and newest sensation Neymar, who will miss Tuesday’s semifinal against Germany with a fractured vertebra.
The German team, on the other hand, conjures up images of a well-oiled, drama-free machine —organized, efficient and powerful. Germany, a three-time World Cup champion, has a reputation for having a tough defense and being predictably successful. The Germans have reached 10 of the past 13 World Cup semifinals, including the past four, but have been unable to win the title since 1990.
In recent years, the German team has added an offensive-minded, fast-paced, attacking style with technically gifted players such as Mesut Oezil, Thomas Mueller, Toni Kroos and Mario Goetze. That is one reason many experts predict Germany will beat a depleted Brazil team in the semifinal and go on to win tournament.
Die Mannschaft has become, dare we say, a scoring machine.
Germany led UEFA in World Cup qualifying with 36 goals.
Bundesliga players have scored 30 goals in this World Cup, more than players from any other league in the world. They also lead the tournament in assists (23). Mueller has scored four, and nine in his past 10 World Cup games.
The leagues in Spain, England and Italy may be more glamorous, but Germany’s top league is making the biggest mark here, as it did in the 2013 Champions League, when Bayern Munich and Burussia Dortmund knocked out Barcelona and Real Madrid to reach an all-German final at Wembley Stadium.
There are 21 players from the Bundesliga left in the semifinals (16 on the German roster), more than from any other league in the world. The English Premier League is second with 20, Italian Serie A third with 14, Dutch league fourth with 10, and Spanish La Liga fifth with eight. Eight of Germany’s starting 11 play in the Bundesliga, including six from Bayern Munich.
Players from 10 Bundesliga clubs participated in the quarterfinals. U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, a former German national team star and coach, is not surprised. Having grown up in Germany, played and coached in the Bundesliga, he has the upmost respect for the league and the national team that drives the sport in that country.
“One of the strengths of the German side has been consistency,’’ Klinsmann said. “Consistency and performing at the highest level, at the biggest stage, which is every two years in a European Championship or a World Cup. They find ways to make it to the end of the tournaments.
“Then, their infrastructure and the culture and how the game is built there, a very strong domestic league, one of the best leagues in the world if not maybe right now the best, develops a whole bunch of very good players. The national team is the locomotive running it, pulling this whole thing.’’
Unlike the English Premier League, which employs less than 40 percent home-grown talent, 60 percent of the players in the Bundesliga are German.
Players come up through the system together, and that cohesion and like-mindedness are evident every time their national team steps on the field.
“One of their national traits is attention to detail and going back generations this rigorous discipline in individuals and the collective body has always been an attribute they have both dedicated themselves to and relentlessly improved upon, whether it be their technique, strategy, tactics,’’ said Ray Hudson, former Miami Fusion coach and now a commentator on BeInSport USA and Sirius XM.
“Even when the entity fails, it is learned from and improved upon almost without exception. This has built in an almost indomitable self-belief and confidence that borders on arrogance and justifiably so. For all of their amazingly successful Euro and World Cup campaigns they‘ve not been champions since 1990, and so the pressure is on them big time, to be crowned champions or it could arguably, and incredibly, be considered a failure to the Germans. They‘ve been the bridesmaids far too many times for German liking.’’
West Germany won its first World Cup in 1954, beating Hungary in Switzerland (“The Miracle of Bern,’’ it was called). Superstars Gerd Muller and Franz Beckenbauer led the team to a second Cup in 1974, and, with Beckenbauer as coach, Germany won its third trophy in 1990. That was the year of reunification of West and East Germany.
The thinking at the time was that a united Germany would produce an unbeatable national soccer team.
But the team sputtered, along with the German economy, in the 1990s. Things began to change after the 2000 European Championship, when the German team was humiliated, finishing last in its group with a single point. Two years later, the Bundesliga ruled that the 36 teams in the first and second divisions had to set up talent academies and boarding schools for promising young players.
When Klinsmann coached the 2006 German World Cup team, the roster included Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and Lukas Podolski, and the first wave of players who came up through Bundesliga academies. By 2010, the German team — which beat Argentina 4-0 in the quarterfinals — was stacked with young talent and playing with a confidence it had been missing for some time.
Though the Bundesliga has gotten stronger and gained world-wide respect, it remains one of the most-accessible leagues for fans. It tops the world’s leagues in average attendance with 45,179 fans per game, ahead of the English Premier League (34,601) and Spain’s La Liga (30,275). Bundesliga stadiums have cheap standing-room-only sections, such as Dortmund’s “Yellow Wall’’ South terrace, where fans pack in for as little as $14 to watch matches.
“Since 2009, things have changed for us and lots of young German players are coming through,’’ said German coach Joachim Loew. “We have a good blend, a strong league with three teams who are among the best in Europe with experience in tough competitions, but I am not unhappy if some play in a foreign country and see other cultures and other coaches.
“Mesut Oezil and Sami Khedira do, for example, and that can be of value and they can learn new things, so I think it is valuable if the individual players go abroad.”
German fans flocked to Brazil in huge numbers for this World Cup, and they arrived with high expectations. They are tired of being bounced in the semifinals. Anything less than a World Cup trophy here on Sunday will be considered a failure.
“The expectations in Germany are very simple; they’ve always got to win it,’’ said Klinsmann, who coached the German team to a third-place finish in 2006. “Otherwise, they are disappointed. That’s just how it is. Third place or second place doesn’t mean much to the fans and the people there.’’