As captain, Lothar Matthaus lifted the most precious trophy in world football in 1990. No other German skipper has achieved that since, although Matthaus’ successors have come close on several occasions. At the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ in Brazil, Germany have reached the semi-finals for the fourth time in succession and are now keen to go all the way.
The former player, who holds the record for the number of World Cup appearances with 25, has followed the thrilling tournament with great interest and believes the long-awaited success is just around the corner.
In conversation with FIFA, Matthaus analysed the three-time World Cup winners' games so far, discussing the forthcoming clash with the hosts and revealing the reasons for his confidence.
FIFA: How do you rate Germany at the 2014 World Cup to date?
Lothar Matthaus: Germany aren't playing the same attractive football they did at the previous two World Cup finals. But Joachim Low has learned a thing or two. You don't win titles playing pretty football. And the target for this German team is to win the World Cup in Brazil. That's why we're seeing a somewhat reserved approach. You only have to think about the four central defenders playing in the back four, with Philipp Lahm in the holding role. Germany had a few problems in the run-in. Important players were injured - like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira and Miroslav Klose too. So Low probably felt he had to try something else and when you look at the results, it's worked really well so far.
There’s been a lot of criticism back home about the way Germany have played, particularly after the game against Algeria. Why is that when the results have been right?
The fans are a bit spoiled as the team has produced very good football over the past few years and there’s great quality in the squad. All the games up to now have been pretty tight and of course the players are also thinking: 'Do we want to play attractive football and go home early or do we want to lift the trophy after seven games?' The answer's clear. Bring the title home and value success above just playing pretty football.
What do you think about Low playing Lahm at full-back against France and why did he go against his previous opinions and tactics?
Low is intelligent. Obviously, it also depends on circumstances. He saw Schweinsteiger and Khedira are fit again and were gradually recapturing their form. He must have been convinced enough to play Lahm in defence.
What do Germany have to change to get through to the Final?
They've just got to beat Brazil. It doesn't matter how. Some players don't play in the same positions they do for their clubs. That's particularly true on the left. You can see that clearly with Mesut Ozil. He normally plays in the centre of the park and now he's on the left. His body language isn't right and he doesn't seem as happy as usual. But he has to play there to get a game and he's giving his all. Benedikt Howedes isn't actually a left-back but rather a central defender back home. I think Germany have got a problem in that position. Otherwise, I think the team functions as a compact unit. The players are in good condition physically and they can play at high tempo for 90 minutes. And that could be decisive in terms of winning.
The hosts are the opponents in the semi-finals. The fans created a brilliant atmosphere at the other Seleção games. Do you think that can intimidate Germany?
The players are used to playing big games, particularly the Bayern players. They play in front of capacity crowds nearly every week in the Bundesliga and the crowds are nearly as big as they are in Brazil. They feel the pressure and the crowd against them at every away game. The same will happen again now. But that could also put pressure on the hosts and be good for Germany. You can see Brazil are very sensitive and they've cried a lot at the World Cup. Not just because they're sad but also out of joy. They show their emotions. You can see a certain sensitivity in the team. We'll have to see how we cope with this pressure. Brazil are at home but Germany are a strong side.
What advantage is it for Low to have players in their second, third or, in Klose's case, fourth semi-final?
Experience was definitely a key factor against France. The French have a young side with hardly any experience of tournaments while Germany have players with 80, 90, 100 or even more caps and with several tournaments under their belts. So it could be an advantage. Previous experience of this stage of the tournament could give Germany an edge over Brazil.
You've been in that position a lot. How do players prepare for a semi-final?
There's no single answer to that question. It's important to do something else rather than focus on the game. But that's clearly a mental thing, perhaps more so than in the game against France for example, as we now know we're up against the supposed favourites, who are also the hosts. There's a lot of pressure from outside the group, but the players need to ignore that.
What's your prediction for the game against Brazil?
I'm patriotic and I don't think anyone will hold that against me. We know it will be a difficult game and we're not the favourites. But we'll win 2-1 – and when I say we, I mean Germany.
What makes you confident Germany can win the World Cup?
I think you have to look at it in a different light. We don't have to win the World Cup, but we want to and we can. The team has performed really well so far. They're in the last four and now it comes down to tiny differences. For me, the team has looked solid and assured. The players are confident. Their body language shows what they're thinking: ‘The only way we can lose is to a better team.' They're full of confidence. There’s room for improvement up front but they all want the same thing, and that's the title.