Toni Kroos was in a hurry to get home. “The advantage is that the way home is short”, said the World Cup champion. Home is now Madrid for the Mecklenburg-born player. The 24-year-old wanted to catch the night plane from Vigo airport to the Spanish capital. After his outstanding performances for Real Madrid during the past months the midfielder had set a further priority. Kroos decided the prestigious match against Spain for the German national team with a shot from 25 metres, scoring the goal for the 1-0 (0-0) victory.
Realising that a low shot can be an extremely dangerous weapon on a soggy pitch, Kroos deliberately didn’t try a lob into the corner. “I previously noticed with a shot from Kevin Volland that the goalkeeper didn’t catch the ball but warded it off. That’s why I tried it too. It was a lucky choice”, Kroos explained, but modestly failed to accept that his action, that gave the Germans their first win against Spain for 14 years, was a special feat. “That’s not a goal for which I will celebrate for three weeks”, he added.
The goal triggered recognition from both sides, however: The Spaniards, particularly his Real team-mates such as Isco, ungrudgingly acknowledged Kroos’ class. And the goal produced happiness once again within the entire German Football Association (DFB). The conclusion to the historic year, with the fourth World Cup title, was in the end successful, despite previous doubts whether this German B team would be up to beat the 2008 and 2012 European champions.
“It is truly great to end this sensational year for us with a success against a top team“, was how national coach Joachim Loew expressed his joy. “It hadn’t been expected like this. It was a perfect conclusion to a wonderful year”, said DFB President Wolfgang Niersbach. The national team’s record is excellent: they played 17 matches in 2014, with eleven wins, four draws and two defeats, and a goal tally of 37-15. “I would have been happy with a goalless draw as well, because the team showed structure and discipline”, disclosed Loew. It didn’t trouble anybody that Kroos’ goal benefited from a mistake by substitute Spanish goalkeeper Kiko Casilla. Continuous rain and a wet, difficult pitch prevented both great football nations from hitting top form.
It was only appropriate that the player with most matches – Kroos played in 16 of the 17 games – scored the winning and last goal of the World Cup year. The man whom FC Bayern wanted to keep but who nevertheless decided to try his luck with the star-studded Madrid squad, even considered himself in the position to evaluate the work of the boss. “I must praise the national coach. We went into the match with a good plan. And the team did everything to make it work”, Kroos said. Kroos’ value shot up during the World Cup year. Loew called his midfield strategist an “outstanding player”, who filled a minor role at the 2012 European Championship.
After the second half of the year, with the worst start in a tournament qualification ever, Loew retained pleasing experiences. It hadn’t been expected after the final on July 13 that he would need to nominate a starting line-up with Erik Durm, Shkrodan Mustafi, Sebastian Rudy, Toni Ruediger, Ron-Robert Zieler and Kevin Volland by the end of the year. But it wasn’t Loew’s last team; some of the B candidates could win through in the battle for regular places.
The team with just four World Cup regulars -- Mario Goetze, Thomas Mueller, Benedikt Hoewedes and Sami Khedira -- fought a good fight and fulfilled well Loew’s tactical specifications. After a short time for adjustment the 3-4-3 system was set, then switched to 5-4-1 when the opponents had the ball. In the absence of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Manuel Neuer, Khedira had taken over as captain, and also sang the national anthem after declining previously. Loew let him play, although Khedira wasn’t fully fit, so the former Stuttgart player would get playing practice before returning to Real Madrid’s line-up. Khedira, a boss among the World Cup champions for a long time, praised the young team-mates. “The team on the pitch did very well”.
Loew’s flexible tactics in Vigo were in anticipation for next year, when he wants to make “changes and adjustments to the playing style”. When he has all key players such as Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Mesut Oezil, Schweinsteiger, Marco Reus, Andre Schuerrle and Julian Draxler, possibly also Ilkay Guendogan, together again the perspectives look much better. In order to achieve his more and more clearly stressed goal, the 2016 European title, the defensive outside positions must be improved. But with a three-man defence at the back Loew can better cover the vacancies, e.g. find a creative solution. And as there is a lack of real strikers, he will also keep an eye on Mario Gomez as a candidate.