The world cup was three days and eight games old before the first real warning was sent out. Germany looked contenders here from start to finish and did not just win their sixth consecutive opening world cup game: Australia were battered in an attractive attacking display that means Germany are once again among the favourites to win.
Australia were always going to have to defend, coach Pim Verbeek naming a team with no recognised striker. Josh Kennedy, the 6’4″ forward who featured in Australia’s warm-up games, was left on the bench: Tim Cahill and Richard Garcia got forward where possible but at times this was a 4-6-0 formation. Australia were set up to contain but found themselves behind inside ten minutes.
The mesmeric Mesut Özil played in Thomas Müller, whose pullback was met on the run by Lukas Podolski, thumping it home for his 40th international goal. Podolski only scored three times all season for his club side, FC Köln, the same as lone striker Miroslav Klose managed for Bayern Munich.
Klose came close to adding a second but blazed wide from close range. 28 minutes had passed when the outstanding Philipp Lahm whipped in a perfect cross from the right; Klose rose effortlessly above his marker and sent his header crashing home. 2-0 and Australia were in trouble.
In Özil Germany have something they have lacked for years – a true playmaker. Left-footed and only 21 years old Özil will be a key part of this side for many years to come and was faultless here, instrumental in all of Germany’s goals and unfortunate not to get on the scoresheet himself. Ozil very nearly added a third: sent clean through he dinked the ball over Mark Schwarzer only for Lucas Neill, running back towards goal, to hoof clear.
Özil and co continued to play their way through Australia with embarrassing ease, the Socceroos’ botched approximation of the offside trap making things even easier. The game was effectively over in the 56th minute when Australia’s talisman received his marching orders.
In the Premier League Tim Cahill might have got away with a challenge on Bastian Schweinsteiger that was late, high and from behind, with both feet off the ground. In mitigation Cahill might claim that he pulled away from the tackle at the last minute; however all that meant was that it was his knees, rather than his studs, that scythed the German to the ground. The Everton midfielder was stunned and wakes this morning to the possibility that his world cup may already be over: if FIFA’s disciplinary panel deems it reckless play he could be banned for two games, ruling him out for the rest of the group stage.
Australia were shell-shocked and Germany found it even easier to play through their reduced numbers. Müller made it three, smartly turning inside his man and firing past Schwarzer off the inside of the post. Moments later coach Joachim Löw sent on naturalised Brazilian Cacau who in less than two minutes made it four, tapping home from six yards after more good work from Özil.
Australia now face an uphill battle to proceed to the knockout stages: if they are to do so it will be without their best player, and they will have drawn little comfort from Ghana’s strong showing against Serbia that afternoon. For Germany this was the best start possible. Expectations were low following the injury to Michael Ballack and uncertainty over coach Löw’s future. Not only did they start with a win but they did so with flair and verve that few had expected, in the best display of the tournament so far.