“Dominating the midfield is the most important thing in modern football. To succeed, you have to be good at everything”

Toni Kroos

 

At the Mane Garrincha Stadium, the host nation digested a massive shock and sent shock waves throughout the world –one of the favourites of the tournament, who took the pitch with the intention to bury the ghost of World Cup 1950 – experienced yet another catastrophe as the Germans thrashed them by 7-1 in the first semifinal of the World Cup 2014. It was havoc that jolted Brazil and the world and also, at times, such thrashings completely mask the mastermind behind it.

Brazil took the field without Neymar, who was injured in the quarterfinals against Colombia and the loss of skipper Thiago Silva meant, half of the strength of the side was gone, but still, as the team was Brazil, the hopes kept alive.

Well, Brazil were 5-0 down within half an hour, but the first warning came after just five minutes.

Marcelo abandoned the steady, reserved role on that left-side channel and pushed forward to become a rampaging, attack-minded wing-back, with holding midfielder Luiz Gustavo, accustomed to dropping back into the defence. It was a suicidal effort against a German team, that, like Brazil were attack-minded but steady in defence. The Germans exploited the left-sided channel and most of the goals were orchestrated from that side because Marcelo left space.

With the German forwards enjoying a goal-fest, it was very important to keep the midfield and backline steady and shut down any chances of a Brazilian comeback.

A guy named Toni Kroos marshalled the midfield and got tight to Fernandinho, while Sami Khedira pocketed Luiz Gustavo.

The fourth goal was a perfect example, with Kroos dispossessing Fernandinho, playing a one-two with Khedira, and converting into an empty net. Khedira hit the fifth, finding himself through on goal almost by accident, as Germany’s task had become so simple.

The Germans were technically impressive but physically imposing too and the combination of their neat counter-attacking and pressing totally floored Brazil.

 They attacked, counterattacked and again attacked – toyed with the hosts and scripted one of the famous humiliations in the history of World Cup Football.

If one man summed up the ruthless German show, it was Kroos, the all-round midfielder. On that night and before that, in the Group Stages, Round of 16 and Quarterfinals, he had been a brilliantly inventive playmaker, capable of spreading neat passes out to the flanks and playing precise penetrative passes.

He was up for the battle, then showed off his skills.

“Kroos is a wonderful player,” Johan Cruyff.

“He’s doing everything right: the pace in his passes is great and he sees everything. It’s nearly perfect.”

 In the final at Maracana against Argentina and Lionel Messi, right from the start, Germany’s possession supremacy became evident. Recycling the ball efficiently and exploring each area of the pitch for weakness – nippy, concise passing, good movement on & off the ball, and a frontline not shy to take chances.

By the halftime mark, they racked up 70.2% possession, controlling the ball well in all thirds of the pitch, especially the attacking third where Argentina was struggling to establish link-up play.

The domineering forces came in the form of Bastain Schweinsteiger aided by the skill, vision and physique of  Kroos in the heart of the German midfield.

The duo was influential in getting the ball forward quickly from defence, with the latter more engaged in creating plays for his frontline. The former was responsible for spreading play to the wider areas. At the end of the first half, Kroos ensured that Germany well in control of the match.

After a vigilant opening spell, Germany began thrusting midfielders forward.

They made their defence compact and then tried to create space between Argentina’s defensive and midfield lines.

That meant slumping Kroos back and around Mascherano, bringing Mesut Ozil inside and Thomas Muller off the edge to make room for Lahm’s run.

Germany employed three playmakers to find space between the lines – specifically in the central and right channels – Getting in behind Lucas Biglia and Perez was easy enough, but Mascherano was at his imperious best in the heart of midfield and repressed most attacks that came his way – Kroos took the responsibility and he performed so brilliantly that Mascherano was isolated.

A Mario Gotze goal in the extra-time earned Germany the fourth title.

In Brazil, Germany were the team with the most passes completed – a total of 4,157 – and Kroos’ own individual tally of 537 was surpassed by only one player, his team-mate Philipp Lahm  – 562.

Kroos may have shone more brightly in other games – the opening victory over Portugal and semifinal rout of Brazil stood out – but at Maracana, his typically precise set-piece delivery created Germany’s best chance of normal time when Benedikt Howedes headed his corner against the post just before the break.

Overall he completed 94 of 114 passes attempted – a number bettered only by Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lahm – and ran 14.3km.

Again, only two players – the excellent Schweinsteiger and Thomas Muller – posted higher totals.

Kroos is one of three German players in the final top ten with Mats Hummels fourth and Muller fifth. Muller owes his place to his five goals – and one outstanding display against Portugal – while Hummels scored twice and was at the heart of a German defence that conceded only four goals in seven outings.

Ideally, Kroos should have won the Golden Ball rather than Messi.

A legend was born in Brazil.

His first taste of success in the international arena came in the FIFA Under-17 World Cup 2007 where he was awarded the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player and also won the Bronze Shoe after scoring five goals.

When Kroos joined the Germany under-17 team in 2005, he was the only squad member from the age group a year younger. “At that age, a one-year gap is a huge difference,” Stefan Reinartz, one of his teammates on that international panel, said.

Kroos stood out among his peers. One of the things Reinartz remembers about him was the crispness of his passes—they glided along the turf. Reinartz makes a whooshing sound before saying, “His passes never bounced. At 15 or 16, he had the passing technique of Xavi or Andres Iniesta; it was just brilliant.”

Kroos’ debut for the national Under-21 team came in 2008 in a 2009 Euro Under-21 Championship Qualifier against Northern Ireland and scored the opening goal in the 11th minute, his second goal for the Under-21 side was the goal in Germany’s 1–0 win over Italy, a precise long-range shot in the angle.

It came as a surprise that coach Horst Hrubesch left him out of Germany’s Under-21 squad for Euro 2009, and Germany went on to win the tournament without him.

In January 2010, Kroos was called up to senior Germany team for the first time, for a training session in Sindelfingen and was named in the squad for the following match, a friendly against Argentina on March 3 2010, in which he subsequently made his debut for the national side.

Kroos was selected to Joachim Low’s 23-man squad for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

He made his FIFA World Cup debut in Germany’s final group-stage match against Ghana, coming on in the 80th minute for Schweinsteiger, with Germany leading 1–0. He made further appearances as a substitute in the quarter-finals against Argentina, in the semi-finals against Spain and in the third-place play-off against Uruguay.

Two years later, he established himself as the linchpin of the German midfield.

“How Toni distributes the ball, how he receives it, is very good. He’s technically excellent … He has made progress in the last few matches; I’m extremely satisfied with the player,” said Low.

In the coming years, Kroos would develop himself as a true all-round midfielder, in addition to his usual role, he has also been used in the centre as a deep-lying playmaker, on the flank, in a box-to-box role, or even as a defensive midfielder, due to his ability to both break up play, retain possession, and create chances for teammates.

What makes his distribution special is his passes are so effective; it’s not just a question of precision.

“He has a really good overview of the pitch,” said Reinartz.

“You could cover his eyes with your hands, and he could still tell you on the right-hand side 50 metres away is Thomas Muller and on the left side is Mesut Ozil, 25 meters away.”

“If it’s possible to break the line [between midfield and defence], he’ll play it, but if it’s not possible, he won’t play it. He doesn’t make mistakes, and he rarely ever gets injured. It seems like it’s effortless, like an easy Sunday morning run-out.”

“Toni is a very intelligent, very brainy and very calm player” said, Pep Guardiola.

His contributions to Germany have been immense and at the age of 31 years, e was expected to deliver more and contribute to the development of next-generation of German players. But he decided to retire from international football.

Kroos’ last outing for his country came in a 2-0 European Championship defeat to England at Wembley Stadium, with the decision taken to walk away alongside departing coach Joachim Low.

Kroos had donned the German shirt 106 times and hit the back of the net 17 times.

The playmaker, who will now focus solely on club matters, is tied to a contract with Real Madrid through to the summer of 2023.

A great journey comes to an end and perhaps, the best is yet to come for Real Madrid.

“I enjoy playing football, and that’s about it. I am no one special”

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Toni Kroos

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