After Tuesday’s delirious 7-1 against Brazil, Joachim Löw had ordered his players to keep a calm head and show some “necessary humility”. Mostly, they seem to be listening. But it would be churlish to deny that the record-breaking way in which the German team sprung to life that evening has not set a few hearts aflutter at home.
Many people have continued to wear their Germany shirts to work for the rest of the week, and the flags and wing-mirror socks on the cars seem to keep on multiplying. On the way to work on Friday, I overheard a father say he and his children had re-watched the drubbing before school that morning.
What is noticeable is that the players who command most affection are not those the marketing departments had previously singled out. Mario Götze and Mesut Özil, who have millions of followers on Twitter and Instagram, have had unremarkable tournaments, while Toni Kroos and Thomas Müller have shone. Per Mertesacker’s grumpy pitchside interview after the Algeria game has not only spawned a series of viral videos, but also met the year-long cries for “more characters” within the German team.
Die Welt newspaper has already published the kind of paean usually kept in the drawer until the trophy is safely on the flight home. “This is a team that can both fight and perform magic: they are at the same time extravagant and down-to-earth, full of tactical intelligence and lustful creativity,” wrote the columnist Ulf Poschardt.
The Nationalmannschaft, he wrote, were “ideal ambassadors for Germany”, the match against Brazil “a 90-minute PR film for a country in which ambition and the determination to perform don’t just run through successful biographies in those areas with a Protestant history”. But euphoria would be the wrong word. Deep down, there seems to be a widely shared awareness in Germany that football is a cruel sport which has little respect for emotional logic.
There may be countries where the lovable losers could go on to become national icons, but Germany isn’t one of them. If the Nationalmannschaft lose on Sunday, they would have lost five out of eight World Cup finals. Embracing a self-image of Germany as the Bayer Leverkusen rather than the Bayern Munich of this world would require some tweaking of the national psyche.
That the team is aware of the kind of disillusion another near-miss could trigger seems clear. If Germany win the cup, there will be a victory parade in front of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate (and not Frankfurt, the home of the German FA where previous triumphs were celebrated). But the off-field manager, Oliver Bierhoff, says there will be no reception this time if the team comes out second best, as there was after the last involvement at a World Cup final, in 2002. Spirits would be too low.
“As bizarre as it sounds, the tendency among coaching staff is to see the rout against Brazil as counter-productive for the final,” wrote Die Welt, while Taz newspaper said the concentration among the German players was “ghostly”: “A lot of emphasis is placed on absolute dispassion. But how radically this requirement has been turned into practice comes as a surprise.”
Most of the papers’ sports pages too are trying their best to dampen the high spirits, warning that the match against Argentina will most likely be tight and cagey, and nothing like Tuesday’s stroll through the park. Spiegel Online calls Argentina’s team “the strength destroyers”: “They are one of the few teams in this tournament that can properly defend and still have qualities upfront.”
Polls before the Argentina-Holland semi-final showed that most Germans preferred a final against the South Americans, whom Germany have beaten in the last three competitive encounters. But omens could prove useless in this case: Germany may have won their last World Cup against Argentina, but then Argentina won their last World Cup against Germany.