COSTA MESA, Calif. – Jurgen Klinsmann believes that Germany’s 2018 World Cup squad is every bit as good as the one that hoisted the trophy four years ago, but he fears that Die Mannschaft will still find it “almost impossible” to repeat as champions this summer in Russia.
Klinsmann was one of the world’s premier scorers when he helped Germany win the 1990 World Cup and 1996 European Championship. He later coached his homeland to a semifinal berth as World Cup hosts in 2006, so he knows firsthand how difficult it is to win a major title once, let alone twice in a row.
“The amount of drive and hunger and willingness to suffer to win the World Cup is unthinkable,” Klinsmann said in an interview with Yahoo Sports. “For any team that won the World Cup, they go through so much stress, through so much work and tension and exhaustion and all those things, that to repeat that is almost impossible.”
History backs him up. In 20 previous editions of the competition, only twice has the same team won consecutive tournaments: Italy in 1934 and 1938, and Pele-led Brazil in 1958 and 1962.
“Yes, Pele did it,” Klinsmann said. “But it’s going to be so difficult for Germany to reinstall that drive — even if the team is as talented as it was four years ago, with another wave of fresh young players and a coaching staff that’s amazing — all those things.”
Still, the admittedly biased Klinsmann is tipping four-time world champion Germany to return to the final, along with Lionel Messi’s Argentina, on July 15 in Moscow. Those same foes contested a tight 2014 title match, with Germany emerging victorious after Mario Gotze scored the lone goal of the match with seven minutes left in extra time.
The outcome could have been different had Albiceleste forward Gonzalo Higuaín buried a scoring opportunity early in the game.
“How many times do you think Higuaín has thought about that chance that he had in the first 20 minutes against Manuel Neuer?” Klinsmann said. “For four years he’s thinking if I had put that in, we’re up one-nil and we win the game. That’s where I say if Argentina develops this almost brutal hunger, then maybe it is Messi’s time.”
Argentina, however, is just one of several threats. Spain is looking to make a deep run after the 2010 winners were eliminated in the group stage last time around. Brazil, humiliated 7-1 by Germany on home soil in the semis four years ago, would surely relish the chance for revenge.
“Brazil has to live with that 7-1,” Klinsmann said. “But they can also shake it off and use it.”
Meantime, Germany must fight complacency. And coach Joachim Loew, who served as Klinsmann’s top assistant in 2006, must ensure that he doesn’t allow sentiment to cloud his roster and lineup decisions. So far that doesn’t seem to be an issue; Gotze didn’t make Loew’s preliminary list for next month’s tourney.
Klinsmann suggested that in 1994, such loyalty could have been a factor when Germany’s last repeat bid ended with a quarterfinal loss to Bulgaria.
“We transitioned the team too late,” Klinsmann said. “There were players from that 1990 team that maybe shouldn’t have been there anymore. And that’s also human, for the coach to give those guys the benefit of the doubt.”
Still, he never forgot what manager Berti Vogts said to his players afterward.
“The big point Berti made,” Klinsmann said, “was that we didn’t lose it because we didn’t have the quality.”
– – – – – – –
More World Cup from Yahoo Sports:
• 2018 World Cup preview hub
• McIntyre: Klinsmann, Arena tell their stories of USMNT qualifying failure
• Ramadan dilemma for World Cup-bound Muslim players: faith or football?
• Gulino: Messi doesn’t need World Cup to retain GOAT status
• FC Yahoo’s staff-wide World Cup power rankings