It is now sixteen years since Germany last won a major international tournament. This (perhaps surprisingly long) period of time hasn’t been without its fair share of pain, but to suggest that this is some sort of drought when when they’ve reached the World Cup final, the World Cup semi-final and the European Championship final in those intervening years would be something of a push. More interestingly, the image of the German national team has been overhauled in recent years. If the old image of the team was built upon the joyless performances of West Germany at the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain and could be visualised as the seemingly perpetually growling face of Harald Schumacher, its replacement was perhaps best demonstrated by two fluid and flexible thrashings handed out in successive matches to England and Argentina in the World Cup finals two years ago. This German national team – fallible and invigorating, capable in equal measures of outstanding brilliance and handing out doses of both agony and ecstasy to its supporters – is possibly the most eagerly anticipated of all sixteen competitors at this summers tournament.
The History: With three World Cups and three European Championships under its belt, it rather feels as if the story of the West German and post-war German national teams has no great need to be told. What is perhaps notable is that the West German teams that have remained in the public consciousness in Germany itself have been those that surprised and given their supporters artistry. The 1954 World Cup winning team’s performance in beating Hungary in Switzerland has been said to have had an effect on the morale of the country that took on a far greater significance than anything merely sporting, while the affection with which the team that thrashed England 3-1 at Wembley in the quarter-final of the 1972 European Championships means that it is these eleven players that have become canonised in the history of German football. If their team manages to win this summer’s tournament with a little elan and end that sixteen year run without a trophy, it might even find itself joining that particular hall of fame.
The Team: If the psychological effects of club football do have any effects upon international tournaments, then we could have pause to wonder how this German team will react to Bayern Munich’s recent defeat to Chelsea in the Champions League. After all, eight of the players selected in the preliminary squad for this summers jamboree are Bayern players. The likelihood is, of course, that the answer to this question is “very little.” Perhaps the most interesting inclusion in this preliminary squad is Julian Draxler of Schalke 04. Draxler is just eighteen years old and has made just nine appearances for the under-18 and under-21 squads but remains uncapped for the full team. With very positive reviews having come from his first two seasons in the Schalke first team, he could prove to be a rabbit up the sleeve, if coach Joachim Low picks him and takes a chance on him in the finals.
The Coach: That Joachim Low is one of the longer-standing coaches in these finals is a reflection on the current hire and fire culture in all areas of modern football. Low had a low key club career, with just one DFB-Pokal with Stuttgart in 1997 in his home country and an Austrian league championship with Tirol Innsbruck won prior to joining the national team as assistant to Jurgen Klinsmann in 2004 and his ascent into the top job following Klinsmann’ post-2006 World Cup resignation. A runners-up spot in the 2008 European Championships and a semi-final place at the last World Cup have silenced most of those that doubted the wisdom of the DFB in promoting him into this position, but it is possible to argue that he won’t necessarily become a national treasure until he brings a trophy back to Germany. Low is contracted to national team until 2014.
The Prospects: With ten wins out of ten in their qualifying matches, Germany sailed through to the finals, winning their group by a jaw-dropping thirteen points as the teams below them all took points off each other. They could have had a better draw for the finals. The Netherlands will likely be seeking to score another grudge win against them and Portugal are certainly not a team to be taken for granted, with only Denmark seeming likely to offer rich pickings at first glance. So, it’s not inconceivable that this Germany team could be knocked out in the first round. Few actually expect this to come to pass, however, and it would be unsurprising to see them reach at least the semi-finals of the competition and perhaps even win it.
The Kit: White shirts, black shorts and white socks. Simple, huh? Well, as any seasoned watcher of football kit designs will know, the answer to that question is not always necessarily a positive one. Adidas have produced some absolute stinkers for Germany over the years, with the period between 1988 and 1996 being a particular low point, but this summer’s design, a plain white shirt with three diagonal pin-stripes in the red, yellow and black of the national flag, looks like a winner to us. After almost twenty years away, green and white makes a return as the change kit, and this is a kit which, we understand, has been known to make grown men cry.
The National Anthem: “Das Lied der Deutschen (The Song of the Germans)“– Let’s get this sorted out. The German national anthem – written by August Heinrich Hoffmann in 1841 to accompany music by Joseph Haydn written 44 years previously – is not, and has never been, called “Deutschland Über Alles”. Yes, the first line of the first verse of the song does use those three famous words. Adopted as the German’s official anthem during the Weimar Republic in 1922, since 1952 (for West Germany) and 1990 (as the unified Germany) only the third verse has been used. For the record, the first line of this verse is “Unity and justice and freedom for the German Fatherland!”. Brotherly love and fairness for all are the order of the day, so you can tell any tabloid reading ninnies of your acquaintance that it’s probably safe now to take their tin hat off.
The British Press Will Say: Well, you know. Look, the days of embarrassing war references are probably – but far from definitely – behind us, but that doesn’t mean that crude national stereotyping of some description won’t come into play at some point in the tournament. Expect tortured puns based on the word “wurst” or similar should they lose any matches and possibly veiled references to “normal service” having been resumed should they win the tournament. The notion of a Roy Hodgson-led England beating them (we know, we know) might just lead to a conflict in some corners of the fourth estate so agonising that it might just bend the laws of physics. When it comes to the British press and the German national football team, it’s best to expect the worst, double your lowering of expectations and consider anything above that to be a surprise. If there are any German team supporters reading this, rest assured that they don’t represent anything like all of us.
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