The Dream Dies: Germans Crushed as National Team Falls to Spain
The confidence of both players and fans grew dramatically as Germany stormed through the World Cup into the semifinal. But on Wednesday night, the country's dream of football glory died in a 1:0 loss to Spain. Still, the team showed the world a different Germany. Will the Mannschaft become a favorite for 2014?
"Attack! Attack!" The shouts of the young woman planted in front of a giant-screen television filled the crowded bar in Berlin's Schöneberg neighborhood every time Germany stumbled across the midfield line and tentatively advanced toward the Spanish goal. Each time, though, her increasingly desperate screams were drowned out by groans of disappointment as yet another German player sent yet another lazy pass into the teeth of the Spanish defense.
In the end, there was only silence. After 90 minutes of mediocrity, Germany's dreams of reaching the World Cup final in South Africa ended in bitter disappointment on Wednesday night. Across the country, millions of fans stared in morose disbelief as the Spanish team swarmed the field in celebration at having reached the World Cup final for the first time in the country's history -- the beneficiaries of a 73rd minute goal off the head of defender Carles Puyol.
"We didn't push forward with enough courage," German captain Philipp Lahm said after the match. "It is bitter when you lose in the semifinal." A crestfallen Lahm also said that he wasn't looking forward to the third-place game against Uruguay on Saturday.
"The disappointment is huge," said German trainer Joachim Löw.
A Powerful Display
Wednesday's game marked the second World Cup in a row in which Germany bowed out in the semifinal -- in 2006, the team lost on their home soil to eventual champions Italy. Four years ago, however, the team's march to the semifinal caught most fans off guard, given the low expectations many had for the Mannschaft.
Prior to this year's tournament, there were likewise many who felt that Löw's team, filled as it is with young players playing in their first major international tournament, would not advance far. But enthusiasm grew as Germany squeaked by Ghana to win its group before demolishing England 4:1 in the round of 16. Any remaining doubters were won over last Saturday, when the team, playing with a lightness and ease one associates more with Brazil than Germany, dismantled tournament favorite Argentina 4:0.
It was a powerful display, made all the more compelling by the make-up of the German squad. Fully 11 of the 23 team members have foreign roots, resulting in a combination of diversity and youth which led to ecstatic support even from Germany's substantial immigrant population.
In the diverse Berlin quarter of Neukölln, some 70 fans, most of them with foreign roots, crammed in front of a sidewalk television in front of Ibrahim Bassal's electronics shop on Wednesday night. Bassal, with roots in Lebanon, gained modest fame in recent weeks for the gigantic Germany flag which he hung from the building above his shop -- a flag which has been repeatedly damaged by radical left-wing Germans. On Wednesday, the crowd in front of his shop, smoking water pipes and sipping beer, suffered through Germany's below average performance.
"I am absolutely crushed," said Bassal. "I was convinced that we would do it."
The same can be said for the millions of other fans across the country gathered in gigantic public viewing areas or watching at home. Some 300,000 fans crowded into the "fan mile" in Berlin for what they hoped would be a gigantic party. In Hamburg, 70,000 gathered in front of the big screen, with around 40,000 joining the largest party in Cologne.
During the previous two matches, even those not riveted to the television knew exactly what was happening on the pitch in South Africa as entire cities echoed with cheers each time Germany scored, but this time it was just silence and groans. In the end, fans trickled off home after the match, hopes shattered.
Still, with Germany having been the third-youngest team in this year's tournament, there are many who are pencilling the team in as favorites in 2014. The team has also gone a long way toward changing the image of German football in the world. Even the British press, for so long fond of comparing the German national team to the Nazi military machine, has recognized the change.
Prior to Wednesday's semifinal loss, the Independent wrote that Germany had already been successful. "Even if they do not go on and win it," the paper wrote, "they have already succeeded -- changing not just the way the world views their nation, but also how Germany looks at itself."
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