The World from Berlin: German Football Is Back 'With Elegance and Grace'

The Germans fell short of a world championship this year, but the young team played such elegant football in South Africa that the nation's image has been burnished -- at least, if you believe German newspaper commentators on Friday.

The German national team won over a lot of new fans during this year's World Cup. Zoom
AFP

The German national team won over a lot of new fans during this year's World Cup.

The German performance at this year's World Cup in South Africa had a short but significant arc: First it was a surprise, then a disappointment. In the early days of the tournament no one expected the young team to excel without its wounded captain, Michael Ballack. When the youngsters dispatched Australia with unexpected grace and precision, there was immediate chatter about Germans taking the trophy. When Germany flicked aside serious contenders like England and Argentina, many felt that Germany would waltz to the championship.

Then they fell to Spain.

The burst of excitement has focused attention on Germany's unflamboyant coach, Joachim Lw. He has quietly built a lethal team with a low-key style to match his own. The players lack the obvious arrogance of other football stars, and they've built on the controlled patriotism of 2006, when Germans felt free, for the first time since World War II, to wave their flag in public. The new racially mixed team has inspired German pride without opening the country up to accusations of ugly nationalism -- and this year even some Israelis rooted openly for the Germans.

What does it all mean? As the World Cup winds down, German commentators on Friday try to squeeze lessons out of this year's tournament, from Germany's new national image to the somewhat less reassuring performance of football's governing body, FIFA, in South Africa.

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"The Germans' own image of football has been turned upside down. Germany, in this World Cup, did not try to win as a 'German' team, with belligerence and strength. It returned to the top of the world game with elegance and grace. These players have set benchmarks like no national team since 1972 -- the team that until now has embodied the German ideal of beauty in the game. That discussion of the quality of play moved front and center in South Africa, and that Germany was admired not just for its efficiency (in scoring goals), is the culmination of a six-year sea change in the team's style: from junk football to the football of the future."

"After the Spanish defeat, Germany's coach (Lw) has sketched out the next few years. The core of the team, on average, is 25 years old. It's the youngest national team since 1934, and it will stay together to make a run for the World Cup in Brazil in 2014."

The Berliner Zeitung picks up the story of Israeli fandom:

"Every third Israeli wanted Germany to win the world championship title, according to a poll taken by the research institute Dachaf just before the match with Spain. Yossi Sarid, a columnist for Ha'aretz and a former education minister of Israel, indicates how fully the young team has changed opinions of Germany: 'Now more than ever, it's okay to root for Germany,' he writes, and poses the question: 'Who would have thought of Jews supporting Germany? Until a few years ago, we could never have brought ourselves to do so.'"

"But it's not the team's professional play that excites (Sarid) so much as the absence of national posturing. 'On Saturday,' he writes, 'as the German anthem played (before the team beat Argentina), we noticed the poker face and pursed lips of Mesut zil (an ethnic Turkish player) and a few of his teammates. One could have expected an immediate and loud protest, a pan-German denunciation. Yet nobody opened his mouth or jeered. What has happened lately to these lions, these pure-bred, blond-haired, blue-eyed Germans? Where is their national honor?' Sarid's answer: 'It has disappeared along with the bone-chilling days of Deutschland ber alles.'"

The Financial Times Deutschland chooses to focus on FIFA, writing:

"FIFA not only took in billions in South Africa. It also made its power more evident than usual. But this victory is dubious: FIFA looks less sympathetic than before."

"In South Africa FIFA has managed to enforce special rules against ordinary people who challenged its authority -- from the disappointed fan of a defeated team, who wanted to sell his tickets to the remaining games on the street, to the bar owner who put a hand-drawn sign imitating the FIFA logo (a football and the year 2010) in his window."

"None of this quite fits the image that FIFA President Joseph Blatter likes to sketch of his organization. Hearing Blatter talk, you'd be forgiven for believing the athletic body was a sort of United Nations of football, bringing peace to the world and a share of wealth to developing nations."

-- SPIEGEL ONLINE Staff

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