The Telegraph
Monday , July 7 , 2014
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Pressure on Brazil: Podolski

Basilia: For all their attacking flair from midfield and the lauding of their young players there is, as ever, a hard edge to Germany. A tournament edge. It is, as Lukas Podolski states, all about the winning when it comes to negotiating a World Cup.

It is why they have reached a fourth consecutive semi-final — incredibly, their 13th in all — and why there is no countenancing of a debate as to whether the team is actually playing that well.

“We are on a good run and it is not important how you play, how many skills you do before the goal — it is only important to end the game with a victory,” Podolski said. “This is the World Cup. When you have a season with 38 league matches you know you can afford to lose a couple of matches.

“But when you are in the World Cup, you must focus on seven matches and not losing any. We have two matches to go and when you win those, you are the champions.”

It is a pragmatic approach and follows on from coach Joachim Loew and Podolski’s Arsenal team-mate Per Mertesacker dismissing any discussion over whether Germany can perform better after they scraped through against Algeria in the last-16 tie. Mertesacker, in particular, was visibly angry when Germany’s performance was questioned.

A more convincing, controlled display against France on Friday has set up the semi-final against Brazil in what will be a raucous Belo Horizonte on Tuesday. Naturally the Germans are not fazed, with Podolski, a veteran now of six major tournaments and with an 116 caps despite still being only 29, calmly stating that the pressure is on the hosts.

“The pressure is on Brazil because they are playing at home,” Podolski said. “If we play against 70,000-80,000 Brazilian fans in the stadium, it’s ok. Every one of us plays away from home in big games. When you play at Tottenham, you are used to this — or in front of 40,000-50,000 at Liverpool as well.”

That may be true, but White Hart Lane is not quite as white hot as the Mineirao Stadium, a tight bowl of an arena with deafening acoustics, as it proved when Brazil played Chile in the last 16, but Podolski’s confidence is understandable given the core of Champions League-experienced Bayern Munich players in the German squad.

However, the pressure is not entirely one-way. Germany have not won the World Cup in 24 years — a mere blink of an eye for England fans, but an age in a country accustomed to a regular stream of silverware. There is a clear sense that another triumph, and a fourth World Cup, is well overdue.

“We were close in 2010 and 2006 and we lost in the semi-final and now I have the feeling we are closer than we were in the last World Cups,” said Podolski, who has made two appearances during this tournament and has just recovered from a thigh strain that left him on the bench against France.

“We have the chance to win it. We will prepare for the semi-final but we are strong, we have not lost a game in this tournament - four wins and one draw.”

After the 4-0 demolition of Portugal those wins have been eked out by narrow margins - 1-0, 2-1 and 1-0 - with Loew adamant that his team would avoid a repeat of the unpredictable ride which saw them run close by the Algerians four days before they faced France.

In the quarter final Germany took an early grip and rarely let it slip, with Loew bolstering his midfield by including both Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira — he had previously alternated that pair as both are short of fitness — and bringing back the 36-year-old striker Miroslav Klose to free up the hard-running Thomas Mueller.

Ruthlessly, Loew also dropped Mertesacker, who had looked vulnerable to the pace of Algeria, while recalling Mats Hummels, who proved to be the match-winner. Germany never relented, with five of their players each covering more than 10km in the match and the team as a whole running 7km more than the French.