Oliver Bierhoff knows how to win a trophy. The 46-year-old former AC Milan striker scored the winning goal for Germany in the Euro 1996 final against the Czech Republic at Wembley. Bierhoff, the German national team's general manager, took some time out ahead of the semifinal against Brazil on Tuesday to take a phone call from ESPN FC and talk about Germany's chances, as well as their use of technology to get an edge over their opponents.
Raphael Honigstein: Mr. Bierhoff, how's the mood in camp ahead of the semifinal versus Brazil?
Oliver Bierhoff: The team is very steady, very serene. I've been to many tournaments, as a player and as a general manager, but I've never seen a team that celebrate so little after winning a quarterfinal. They have been completely focused, they don't want the journey to be over. I think the trip to Rio (for the France game) also helped because it gave everybody a huge incentive to get back to the final at the Maracanã. The concentration has been incredibly high, but there's just the right amount of feeling at ease too.
RH: Nobody wants a third playoff game for third place. Would this World Cup still be rated a success if Germany don't make it to the final?
OB: For me, yes. We want to win the trophy, at all cost, of course. But anything can happen in semifinal or a final. You can be at your best and still lose. Or you can win with a bit of luck. The difference between the teams is so small. All I can say is that the players really want to win the trophy.
RH: How do you see the game against Brazil?
OB: They will be a tough opponent, even without Neymar and Thiago Silva. They will move closer together as a team. Our scouts have watched Brazil for four years. We have the data from the games without Silva and Neymar. We can show our boys how the players who will come in for Brazil move. We have devised an app that allows us to use this analysis on mobile devices. The data can be filtered so quickly that we will have the key scenes from the new attacker who will come in place for Neymar, for example, instantly. We can give the defenders two or three meaningful clues. We have found that this tool works really well because it's visual and intuitive.
RH: Can you give us another example of how football analytics are being used by the German team in Brazil?
OB: We have found that players like communicating via their digital devices. So with the help of our technology partner, we came up with an app that allows us to send short clips of analysis to individual players or groups of players from different parts of the team. Every player gets a couple of examples of him doing things well and badly straight after the game. They can look at it on their own time and also check their performance data. That's much more useful than showing a 90-minute video tape, as they used to in my time. The players appreciate that sort of feedback. We also have a lot of qualitative data for the opposition available. Jérôme Boateng asked to look at the way Cristiano Ronaldo moves in the box, to use another example. And before the game against France, we saw that the French were very concentrated in the middle but left spaces on the flanks because their full-backs didn't push up properly. So we targeted those areas.
RH: Is there more confidence since the win against France? The 2-1 versus Algeria had thrown up lots of doubts.
OB: These doubts were voiced outside the camp, but inside the team, everybody stayed very calm. One of my main jobs is to take out the drama a little bit. You can't let the emotions get too close to you, especially those that come from outside the team. After the 4-0 versus Portugal in the opening game, I had sponsors call who wanted to discuss what we could do if we won the World Cup. A couple of days later, after the 2-2 versus Ghana, everyone was more doubtful. These reactions are very extreme, and they can change with every game. You have to isolate yourself from that. We have managed to do that well, in my view. And sometimes I have to tell the players: It's a game -- it's sport.