Germany impress in Africa


BERLIN, December 16- Germany's rising stars announced their arrival on the global stage in 2010 with an eye-catching brand of attacking football that saw them claim third place at the World Cup in South Africa.
Germany’s reputation for efficient, defence-minded football was ripped to pieces by the class of 2010 under coach Joachim Loew, as emerging talents like Mesut Ozil and Thomas Mueller became household names.

Domestically, defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich remain the team to beat, but a young Borussia Dortmund side took control of the German league and some of their young stars have forced their way in the national side.

Back in March, there there was no hint of the drama to follow in Africa when Germany made a losing start to their World Cup year.

Diego Maradona’s Argentina enjoyed a 1-0 win over the hosts in Munich and Bayern’s young forward Mueller was left red-faced when Maradona mistook him for a ball-boy at the post-match press conference.

Mueller, who only turned 21 in September, later had the last laugh when he scored the first goal in the 4-0 quarter-final hammering of Argentina in Cape Town in July at the World Cup, which ultimately cost Maradona his job.

With five goals to his credit and three assists, Mueller finished as the top scorer in South Africa and was voted the best young player of the tournament, while playmaker Ozil was snapped up by Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid.

Bayern Munich won the league and cup double before reaching the Champions League final in May, just as Germany suffered a blow before the plane took off to Africa when captain Michael Ballack was injured.

The midfield veteran injured his right ankle playing for Chelsea in the FA Cup final, which ruled him out of the tournament.

In his absence, defender Philipp Lahm took over the skipper’s armband.

Having opened their World Cup campaign with an impressive 4-0 demolition of Australia, Germany were brought back to earth with a shock 1-0 defeat by Serbia in Group D as Lukas Podolski missed a second-half penalty.

A nervy 1-0 win over Ghana followed, but Germany burst into life in the 4-1 win over England in the last 16 as Loew’s tactics of using Mueller and Ozil’s pace against the slow English centre-backs paid off and Mueller netted twice.

Loew’s young lions then knocked out Argentina, but their World Cup odyssey ended when they lost 1-0 to Vicente del Bosque’s Spain in the semi-final as the technically brilliant Spaniards snuffed out the Germans’ fire.

Germany finished third with a 3-2 win over Uruguay in the third-place play-off, but they carried their form into the qualification campaign for Euro 2012.

Loew’s side finish the year with a five-point lead in Group A after four wins from four including a 3-0 hammering of main rivals Turkey.

If they continue to improve, the Germans will be a threat to defending champions Spain at Euro 2012, to be held in the Ukraine and Poland.

On the domestic front, dark horses Mainz set the early pace in the Bundesliga with seven straight wins, including a rare victory at defending champions Bayern.

When they dropped off the pace, Dortmund picked up the challenge and by the start of December had opened up a ten-point lead at the top of the table.

Bayern were faced with a daunting 17-point gap to bridge and coach Louis van Gaal conceded the title race may already be over, despite there being five months left to play before the season finishes in May 2011.