It’s hard to compare different eras and two of the best German national teams in history. 1990 and 2014 marked last two German wins in the World Cup. If the 1990 team was brilliant, then then the 2014 team is arguably one of the best teams in the history of football and is an example of how modern football should be played.
The German vintages of 1990 had similarities. In both cases, they started the competition among the favorites with coaches (Beckenbauer in 1990 and Low in 2014) who had the confidence of the media and the people. Both teams had recorded brilliant results in the World Cups preceding the 2 titles but failed to win it. Germany had in fact reached the 1982 and 1986 finals before losing. The momentum in the World Cups before 2014 was even more impressive with a final in 2002 and semifinals in 2006 and 2010. By winning in 2014, Germany became the first team to reach four World Cup semifinals in a row.
In terms of offensive efficiency, the 2014 team produced better results than the team of 1990. They scored 17 goals in 7 games (2.43 goal per game), whereas the 1990 team scored 15 goals in 7 games (2.14 goal per game). Defensively, Joachim Low’s team conceded 4 goals in 7 games (0.57 goal per game). whereas Beckenbauer’s conceded 5 in 7 games (0.71 goal per game). Thus, on average the team of 2014 won their games more easily than the team in 1990, with an average goal difference per game of +1.86 (versus +1.43 for the team in 1990).
Germany’s style of play in 2014 was based on holding the possession, while still being able to make fast attacks in very few passes to reach the opposing goal (which was the case in few of the goals scored against Brazil in the semi-final). The 2014 team had no one and only superstar, making the team spirit more important. In 1990, the team clearly had one star – Lotthar Mathaus, who won the Ballon D’Or that year – whereas in 2014 the star was the team and it was impossible to determine one and only one key player between Neuer, Kroos, Khedira and Lahm. In the Ballon d’Or award of that year, Neuer finished only 3rd, Lahm 6th and Kroos 9th. The lack of a clear key player had prevented a German from winning the most prestigious individual award, despite winning the World Cup that year.
Germany’s goalkeeper in 2014, Manuel Neuer, revolutionized the role by involving himself in the game with quality short and long passes. Furthermore, he played the role of libero in several occasions to strengthen the domination of the Germans. As a result, he was elected as Goalkeeper of the Tournament. In 1990, Bodo Illgner was Germany’s goalkeeper. Despite having a good tournament, he didn’t play a role as decisive as Neuer in 2014 and wasn’t the best keeper of the 1990 tournament.
The most brilliant German victory of 1990 was beating Diego Maradona’s Argentina, 1-0 in the final. That was a huge achievement but nothing to compare with the win of Germany 7-1 against Brazil. Germany beating Brazil by a 6-goal margin was unprecedented in senior football’s history. But what made that achievement even more important was that it was in Brazilian soil.
Last but not least, the German victory in Brazil in 2014 was highly symbolic as it was the first time a European team wins a World Cup organized on the American continent (North or South America). South Americans had won the 7 previous World Cups played on the American continent. This victory really marked the trend reversal in the balance of power between South Americans and Europeans in the World Cup, as Europeans had now won 4 of the last 5 World Cups. In 1990, the German victory was more of a classical one as it was played in European soil in Italy, and Europeans had won 6 of the 7 previous World Cups played at home.