The World Cup is still 11 months away, and only three teams have already qualified. So there’s still much to be decided.
One thing has become very clear, however: Germany has all the makings of a favorite.
The Germans punished a first-half mistake by Chile and refused to crack defensively to win the Confederations Cup for the first time, 1-0, on Sunday in Saint Petersburg.
And as has been pointed out ad nauseam, this is not the Germans’ strongest side. More of a “prospect” squad, almost every key component of their World Cup triumph in 2014 was left home this summer in favor of a younger, more inexperienced group in a bid to refine players who might be needed to defend the world championship next summer.
If this competition is any indication, they don’t need much refining.
The final against Chile played out almost like a proxy war between contemporary philosophies of soccer, with the Chileans enjoying a healthy 66- to 34-percent advantage in possession but Germany looking sharper in the attack, generating the better scoring chances overall and ultimately scoring the winning goal.
It came relatively early, after Germany survived a bewildering offensive surge by the Chileans to start the match. In the 18th minute, a sequence of indecisive passes in their own half led to a catastrophic giveaway by Marcelo Diaz, which Timo Werner took and immediately slotted to a wide-open Lars Stindl in front of the net:
HUGE mistake at the back from Chile!
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 2, 2017
From there, the Germans dealt with pretty much every Chile build-up with cool heads and sound positioning while mounting more threats of their own. This performance, like most over the past three weeks in Russia, belied their average age of under 22 years old. Germany finished the tournament by beating African champions Cameroon, CONCACAF champions Mexico and South American champions Chile by an aggregate score of 8-2.
And the Chileans fully went for it, seeking a capstone of sorts to the greatest stretch in the history of the international program. They were unlucky not to have equalized the score twice late, with Arturo Vidal and Angelo Sagal both skying attempted shots that had fallen to them right in front of Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s goal. Alexis Sanchez also saw a low, hard free kick saved by ter Stegen in the final minute of stoppage time.
Even if the Confederations Cup is considered a second-tier tournament, this final had the intensity of something bigger. Chile was fortunate to have dodged red cards on a couple occasions in the second half, first when Vidal appeared to shove Bayern Munich teammate Joshua Kimmich in the face after an incident off the ball, and later when Gonzalo Jara looked to have elbowed Werner in the face but was only shown yellow after a lengthy video assistant referee review.
VAR will certainly be a major talking point of this edition of the Confederations Cup, but so will Germany, which suddenly seems likely to raise another trophy in Russia around this time next year.
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