Five hours before their World Cup semi-final against Brazil, I asked a German colleague if he was ready for the match. “I’m not even thinking about it,” came the reply, “It’s quite far away.”
And that’s the difference between Ireland and Germany. If it was us, I doubt anyone would have even gone to work. In fact, as one friend of mine said, it’s likely we’d have been out of work since the quarter-finals.
Contesting the World Cup final is the least they’ve expected. That is not arrogance. It’s been well documented, they will now have been in two of the last four deciders, and reached the semis on the other occasions. This time though, with this squad, the Germans have been full of confidence.
Back in 2002, even they were surprised to reach the final against Brazil. Rudi Völler side’s were desribed as the worst German team in history and yet they reached the last game. Two years later at the European Championships in Portugal, they were eliminated in the group stages having drawn with Latvia and lost to the Czech Republic.
The fall-out caused deep soul-searching in German football. The emphasis was redirected at youth development at the expense of the immediate tournaments. Of course, Germany being Germany, even while they were rebuilding they went to the last four of each of the subsequent World Cups and Euros.
This time though, the investment in youth was expected to pay dividends. The upward surge of the Bundesliga, with Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmud reaching the 2013 Champions League final, has been built on burgeoning young German talent.
Their top-flight contributed a staggering 73 players at this World Cup. The starting line-up for the last 16 tie against Algeria saw seven Bayern Munich players in the team, a first for the Bavarian giants in a World Cup.
Five Bundesliga players are nominated for the FIFA Golden Ball trophy, four from ‘Die Mannschaft’, the other being the mercurial Arjen Robben while Munich’s towering Manuel Neuer is up for the best goalkeeper at the tournament. The prolific Thomas Müller at just 24-years-old is chasing a second consecutive top scorers gong at the finals.
Another diamond find, Toni Kroos, is currently at the centre of a tug-of-war between some of Europe’s top clubs while others like Mario Goetze and Mats Hummels have made no small contribution to Germany’s march to the final.
There are others not even in the starting line-up who are threatening even more explosive potential like Schalke’s Julian Draxler, Borussia M’gladbach’s Christoph Kramer, Dortmund’s Erik Durm, and the poster boy of the team, Marco Reus, who cruelly missed out on the trip to Brazil with an injury sustained in the final warm-up match.
RTÉ’s Eamon Dunphy, who dismissed Germany back in 2002, bizarrely claimed the game was in decline here while Bayern Munich were on the way to a treble haul in 2013. Having won the Bundesliga at a canter last season, Pep Guardiola’s side floundered against Real Madrid in this year’s Champions League but they still reached the semi-finals. ‘Der FCB’ form the backbone of the current German squad.
The atmosphere on the streets of Germany has slowly ratcheted up as the tournmant builds to a crescedno in Rio’s iconic Maracana stadium. The Germans expected to emerge from the groups stages with ease so the flags on houses and cars, perhaps noticablely few early on, have come out in ever increasing numbers.
The public viewing fan fest in Hamburg, the largest outside Berlin, catering for up to 50,000 spectators, was easily accessible in the earlier rounds. Now a spot at the site just outside St Pauli’s stadium and at the top of the famous Reeperbahn has to be secured hours in advance.
Fans of Germany’s opponents are also welcome here though there was nowhere to hide for the shell-shocked Brazlians in their vibrant ‘canarinho’ yellow shirts. Here too, though, the Germans have shown class with players like Mezut Ozil and Lukas Podolski expressing their love and admiriation for the World Cup hosts and their wonderful people.
There were two contrasting images in the media in the last week following Germany’s stunning semi-final win. Brazilian paper Hoje’s front page showed the five stars depicting the country’s much-vaunted World Cup wins with the sixth falling into obscurity. In Germany meanwhile, one popular picture on social media displays the crest of the Deutscher Fußball-Bund with the three stars above and a fourth half-coloured in yellow accompanied by the computer-style slogan ‘Loading.’
Another German colleague, far more enthused about his country’s appearance in the great global spectacle remarked following their epic 7-1 victory to reach the showpiece, “Now, perhaps only after Brazil, Germany has shown that we are the world’s other great footballing nation.”
If they win on Sunday night, few could argue with that. Brazil’s may have faded, but Germany’s stars are just beginning to blaze a trail.
James Carew lives in Hamburg, Germany, and is a social media manager with the Bundesliga. He’s also co-editor of the Póg Mo Goal magazine, the new Irish football publication focused on quality writing and considered design, available in Indigo and Cloth in Temple Bar and online at pogmogoalmagazine.com