Prior to a win-or-bust Group D finale against Ghana, many were asking if the youngest Germany FIFA World Cup™ squad in 76 years would be able to cope with the pressure. After 90 enthralling minutes at Soccer City in Johannesburg, the answer was a qualified yes.
The 80,000 crowd saw the Germans throw themselves into the task at hand, after shaking off their obvious early nerves. "We were determined to win and make the last 16 as group winners," central midfielder Sami Khedira exclusively told FIFA. "And we deserved the victory. Overall, it was a good performance, although we allowed the pace to drop at the start, which only encouraged Ghana."
The three-time FIFA World Cup winners certainly looked hesitant at times in the opening half-hour. "You could see our young team struggling to cope with the pressure," said Germany boss Joachim Low in the post-match news conference. "But these are the games you have to win. We’ve done it, and I’m delighted."
Captain Philipp Lahm, who combined solid defence with a number of threatening raids down the right flank, acknowledged the trial by fire experienced by some of the players. "The pressure was on, but we coped. It was a big game for us, because we were utterly determined to make the last 16, and we're there."
Much rested on the shoulders of lone striker Cacau, making his first FIFA World Cup start as a stand-in for the suspended Miroslav Klose. "It was tough going at times, but my job was to help the team. Fortunately, it worked out," the 29-year-old told FIFA.com. But were the German team kept informed of the scoreline between Australia and Serbia during the match? "No, we were totally focused on our own game, and that was for the best."
The spotlight also fell on Jerome Boateng, asked to play in the unfamiliar left-back slot. Time and again, he crossed paths with no less a Ghana star than his half-brother Kevin-Prince. "We took a while to settle,” Germany's Boateng acknowledged, "our passing wasn't as accurate as normal."
However, the single-goal victory was enough for the Germans to top their group for the sixth time in a row at the finals and seal a berth in the last 16, where arch-rivals England await on Sunday. "It'll be a cracking match and we're looking forward to it," declared Low. "Any meeting with England is huge, and we'll be up for it," added Lahm, "we're looking forward to it with confidence, although we know there are things we have to do better."
Cacau for one can hardly wait for Sunday. "The meeting with England will be the highlight of my career to date. We'll have to improve, but we have a good chance." In the event the clash at Free State stadium in Mangaung/Bloemfontein proves a knife-edge affair, the small matter of good fortune could well play a decisive role. "And we rode our luck at times tonight," Lahm confessed.