Say what you will about the Cowboys, Mets or Steelers, but no team on the planet carries as much of a stigma as German soccer. There are no casual fans of Germany. And there’s no other team in the world that can say that. What makes this even more bizarre is the fact Germany is good. Really good.
Zee Germans have finished in the top three at 10 of the 16 World Cups it has played in, including three wins. Not even Brazil has as many finals appearances; nevertheless, Germany remains arguably the most consistently reviled team ever. I believe this phenomenon has developed for several concurrent reasons. Obviously, World War II is the primary factor in the world’s inherent disdain for Deutschland. However, Italy and Japan weren’t exactly loved during that time either, and their image has shifted 180 degrees over the last 60 years. Another factor is the fact that Germany is just so damn good at soccer that they’re easy to hate. However, teams that are hated for being good, like the Yankees or Manchester United or the Cowboys, also usually have massive fan bases. They are often loved just as much as hated. Another contributing factor is their style of play, which has been stereotypically described as a machine-like force that simply mowed down everything in its path. The stereotype is rooted in truth though because the fact is, Germany’s style of play lacks the Joga Bonito flair of Brazil or Argentina, the tactical and defensive prowess of Italy, or the lion-hearted desperation of England. They’ve traditionally steamrolled their opponents by means of an unattractive and menacing perfection. These factors produce an image, all the way down to their austere black and red jerseys, that inevitably leads to a sentiment of Schadenfraude watching them lose, as rare as that occurrence may be. And so, they are a paradox. Over such a vast span of time, Germany’s success has been unparalleled in soccer; yet the international abhorrence for them, unparalleled in the history of sports.
Nickname: Die Mannschaft, “The Team”. It doesn’t help their case that a phrase as innocent as “the team” sounds like a nationalistic war cry in German.
Best Player: Phil Lahm, left back, Bayern Munich
Outlook: The last 9 months have been a roller coaster for the Germans. They went undefeated in qualifying, outscoring their opponents 26-5. But in November, starting goalie Robert Enke committed suicide after a long struggle with depression. Since then, they’ve also lost backup goalie Rene Adler to injury, as well as Simon Rolfes, a strong defensive midfielder who figured to factor largely into their World Cup plans. Finally, German-born Portsmouth player Kevin-Prince Boateng, who shunned Germany to play for Ghana and whose brother, Jerome, currently plays for Germany, slid spikes up into captain Michael Ballack, the heart and soul of Die Mannschaft, and knocked him out of the World Cup with torn ligaments in his ankle.
The loss of Ballack means they’ll rely heavily on the highly-talented, highly-inexperienced combination of 23 year-old Sami Kedira (Stuttgart), 20-year old Toni Kroos (Bayern Munich) and Mesut Ozil and Marko Marin, a pair of 21-year old Werder Bremen midfielders. This dynamic foursome has played in just 28 international matches combined. Whether their play reflects their immense talent or their worrisome inexperience will have a major impact on how far the Germans make it in South Africa. Fortunately, the rest of the offense is filled with international experience, Bastian Schweinsteiger already has 75 caps at just 25 years old and is coming off a fantastic season with Bayern. The strikers will be two familiar faces, Lucas Podolski (FC Koln) and Miroslav Klose (Bayern Munich), who generally struggle with their clubs but dominate for their national team. Klose won the Golden Boot at the ’06 Cup and scored 5 goals at both the ’06 and ’02 tournaments.
The biggest question on defense is obviously goalkeeper, but Manuel Neuer (Schalke 04) is better than average and has been hot all year. At left back, Lahm is the without peer. Though just 5’7″, he is a terror defensively and has a knack for scoring big goals in big games. Unlike Lahm, the rest of the German defense is big, strong and physical but slow.
As always, Germany has a distinct advantage over nearly every other contender because so many of their players play in Germany. Boatang (Manchester City) is the only member of the 23-man squad who plays for a club team outside the German Bundesliga. In fact, more than a third of their team plays on the same club team, Bayern Munich, which is coming off its best season in years. The familiarity that comes with playing together regularly cannot be understated. Think of Brazil as USA Basketball when they were getting rolled on in the 2004 Olympics. They played together as a team just a few weeks before the tournament started and lost to far less talented teams (read: Germany) that have played together for years.
Most Famous Citizen: David Hasseloff. NIGHT RIDER. Like the national team, The Hoff is without peer on the international stage. He’s an icon in Germany for his bizarre and inexplicably successful music career. He was Mitch on Baywatch. Fun fact, Baywatch got canceled after one season, so Hasselhoff personally funded and produced the show, did ten more seasons, and turned it into, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the most watched television show of ALL TIME with over 1.1 BILLION viewers. That little investment plus royalties helped earn him an estimated net worth of over $100 million. THE HOFF IS RICHER THAN OBAMA. He also performed at the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and, oh yeah, he’s a RAGING ALCOHOLIC. Kudos to you Hoff. The world has spent the better part of a century building up walls of disdain and indifference towards the Germans. And I say to you, “MR. HASSELHOFF, TEAR DOWN THESE WALLS.”
Prediction: While this team may not be as talented as the ’06 third-place iteration, they should still win their group. However, a tough draw means that their knockout round games would go something like this- England/USA, then Argentina, then Spain, then Brazil. In other words, AAAUUU REVVOOIIR SHOSHAAANA.