Before the World Cup started, Ben Raphel at our IU sister site Crimson Quarry published an article comparing all 32 teams in the World Cup to NCAA Basketball programs. I highly recommend that you check it out if you haven’t already, because it’s highly entertaining, but here’s the part we both know you’re here for:
Won it all recently and are always a threat. North Carolina seems like the pick here. (Also, Italy isn’t in the tournament this year, but with their penchant for flopping, they’re totally Duke.)
The general fit is really good here, as Germany is a team with both the history (4 World Cup trophies, second to just Brazil) and current dominance (World #1 in FIFA’s rankings by a wide margin, current world champions) to match up to how UNC has been atop the men’s college basketball game both historically and recently (The Heels, of course, have 6 NCAA championships with their 6th coming just two seasons ago, putting them at all-time 3rd). The rivalry pick is pretty good, too: Germany and Italy are the most successful teams in Europe, have each won a World Cup on the other’s turf, and nearly every high-profile game between the two is an instant classic. It’s not as vitriolic as, say, Italy-France or Germany-Netherlands, and certainly not as much as UNC-Duke, but in terms of success and geography, the analogy is pretty spot-on. One can only hope Duke follows Italy’s lead this year and fails to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
But let’s take this a little deeper. How well do the Tar Heels on the court match up with Die Mannschaft on the field? Let’s find out, starting with the most obvious pick in light of recent events (German players selected from the XI that played against Sweden):
Toni Kroos = Luke Maye
Kroos’ late-game heroics came after, not before, he’d established himself as one of the best at his position in the world, but there’s no denying the similarities between this:
Like Maye, Kroos is a highly skilled, versatile player known for pinpoint accuracy and his ability to play several different roles: defender, attacker, creator, finisher... both Kroos and Maye can and do do it all for their teams. He is among this German squad’s most-capped players and has given the team experienced leadership while being among its best players. He already has a championship to his name and is looking to add another one this year. Sound familiar? Thought so.
Thomas Muller = Kenny Williams
Williams isn’t (yet) a college basketball star the same way as Muller is in world and club soccer, but similarities are there regardless. Neither excels at the game the way you’d expect a top-level player to, but is successful regardless. Muller is a strange combination of creator and goal-poacher; he is able to find space for his teammates with ease but struggles in one-on-one situations. Williams is a classic “3-and-D” player with underrated passing ability who also doesn’t fare too well in one-on-one situations. Both are lauded for their pristine technique and leadership qualities, as they are both the longest-tenured members of their respective sides.
Timo Werner = Coby White
A prodigious young goal-scorer with numerous German fastest-scoring records , a freshman coming in as the new record-holder for most points scored in North Carolina high school basketball history... yeah, I don’t think I have to explain this one.
Marco Reus = Seventh Woods
So here’s the second sentence from Reus’ Wikipedia page:
He is renowned for his versatility, speed and technique, but also for proneness to injury.
We as UNC fans have yet to really see Woods at full health after he’s battled lower leg injuries for the majority of his first two years as a Heel. This summer, though, he seems to be healthy and ready to show off the jaw-dropping athleticism and tight handle that made him a Roy Williams target in the first place. This workout video makes it look like he’s well on his way (and without a hitch in his jumper!):
Reus is 29 years old and just now playing in his first World Cup despite his obvious talent because of an unlucky streak of injuries and inconsistent form. This year, though, he’s primed to shine, just like Woods hopefully is. With an assist and a goal in the comeback win against Sweden, he’s already made his mark this year.
Sebastian Rudy = Cameron Johnson
For this comparison, we have to reach a little into club play, but I think it works out. Rudy has played in the Bundesliga, Germany’s top league, since he was 18, but spent his first several years on TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, which is basically the equivalent of playing in the ACC, but for Kevin Stallings-era Pittsburgh. Only last year did his brilliance earn him a spot on the Bayern Munich roster, one of the real big dogs of the league. I think you know where I’m going with this.
Joshua Kimmich = Nassir Little
Young superstars known for their ability to do everything and yet expected (and willing!) to sacrifice the exhibition of their own skills for the sake of team fit. We haven’t seen Little in Tar Heel blue yet, but this sounds pretty par for the course for a player of his caliber in any elite program.
Jerome Boateng = Garrison Brooks
Okay, this one’s a little (or a lot) tenuous, but hear me out. Obviously, Brooks isn’t near the quality of player that Boateng is, as the former is fairly early in his development and the latter is among the best in the world at his position. But like Boateng, Brooks has made great strides on the defensive end in a very short time, enough to earn himself a unique niche in the squad as a premier defender. Like his German counterpart, he’s good for a little offensive explosion every once in a while, too:
Joachim Loew = Roy Williams
I promise, there’s more here than just the two being long-tenured coaches of elite programs who have reached the pinnacle of their sport. Both have, in recent years, started to bring a traditionally old-school institution into the modern game, though Loew has made a more complete revolution than Williams has (not that we’re complaining). Both rely on team execution more so than individual brilliance; Williams has equaled his peers’ success despite no lottery picks since 2012 and Loew has the world’s #1 side with just one player in the World Cup’s top 20 in terms of market value according to TransferMarkt.com.
And here’s a bonus, coming off the bench for both sides:
Mesut Ozil = Sterling Manley
Players with excellent offensive polish who can’t start now because of questions regarding fitness and defense? Manley is on the upswing while Ozil is nearing the end of a storied career, but their paths intersect pretty closely at this point in time. And just as Ozil can still be a super-sub for Germany in times when they need a goal, Manley can already elicit this reaction from opposing players:
Dwyane Sutton's reaction when he saw Sterling Manley checking back in last night pic.twitter.com/m8RX6GLfZI— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) February 18, 2018
Again, projecting Manley onto somebody who has had the career that Ozil has had is an endeavor of great arrogance on my part, as we can only hope that Manley reaches the level of household name that Ozil is. But as for the other names for which this is the case, on their respective playing surfaces, I think the comparison kind of works. And as a bonus, Ozil just re-earned a starting spot against South Korea! Manley will hope to do the same for the 2018 season.
Germany is playing South Korea right now for the chance to qualify for the Round of 16. Check them out on FS1 or on Fox Sports Go. And if you liked the article that inspired this one, check out this from SB Nation doing the same for college football. Unfortunately, UNC didn’t make the cut, but it’s worth a read.
And finally, I leave you with this observation on the college basketball article, courtesy of fellow THB writer Matt Ferenchik:
I get them giving England to Indiana, but personally, I would’ve given them to State... England’s whole thing is that they won a thing in an extremely memorable fashion and have spent decades trying to live up to it and failing, while their fan base keeps talking themselves into the next manager/player/whatever being the thing only to turn on them when it fails... that screams State to me.
Ah, good stuff. Leave your thoughts below!