Friday 13 December 2019

Germans ready to rule world for years to come

Golden generation hungry for more after six U-21 Euro winners lift World Cup

Manuel Neuer and Benedikt Hoewedes, members of Germany’s U-21 European Championship-winning team in 2009, celebrate after their victory over Argentina. Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images
Manuel Neuer and Benedikt Hoewedes, members of Germany’s U-21 European Championship-winning team in 2009, celebrate after their victory over Argentina. Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

Sam Wallace

The aftermath of a World Cup final in the area of the stadium in which journalists and players can mix – albeit separated by a barrier, to remind us of our place in the FIFA order – is always an intriguing environment.

One squad of players walks in as just your average superstar internationals, and walks out hours later having written their names into history.

In 2002, in Yokohama, the Brazilian team emerged en masse singing, dancing, playing drums and tambourines with the trophy carried before them.

The Italians came out in 2006 like men released from jail, after the Calciopoli scandal of the previous months had dragged the reputation of their game into the muck.

The Spanish in 2010 emerged to share the moment with their media, with whom they have a close relationship, like glowing children greeting their parents at sports day.

On Sunday night, the German team, as is their way, walked out as if adding the fourth star to their shirt was the most perfectly normal thing in the world.

Some of them had made an exception to their usual standards of excellence by drinking the official sponsors' beer, laid on for them in the dressing-room.

Per Mertesacker tried to get a song going but he was so out-of-tune that it was difficult for any of his team-mates to follow.

Germany as Weltmeister? It fits. Third place in 2006 and 2010, the Euro 2008 beaten finalists and semi-finalists at Euro 2012, one can hardly say it had not been coming.

"We started this project 10 years ago," said coach Joachim Loew.

The only question that remains is how much longer the great German 21st-century generation can continue to dominate the game.

In football, we have come to believe that all success comes in cycles and that even the best must eventually cede the throne, or, like Spain at this World Cup, have it seized from them.

But Germany have refined a system that is consistently producing players of the top level.

In this tournament alone they were denied Marco Reus, Ilkay Gundogan and Lars Bender through injury. Julian Draxler, the prized Schalke midfielder, played just 14 minutes. Even Mario Goetze, the substitute who scored the match-winning goal in the final, was lightly used.

Last season at Bayern Munich, Pep Guardiola challenged Goetze to try to attain the levels that Lionel Messi has reached. It will be intriguing to see how Goetze develops in his second season at Bayern.

His winning goal is one further step towards being the level of player which Germany believe he can become.

Aside from the 36-year-old Miroslav Klose, now surely set to call time on his glorious international career, the oldest outfield player in the squad is Philipp Lahm, at 30.

Bastian Schweinsteiger will be 33 come the next World Cup finals; Manuel Neuer will be 32; Mats Hummels, 29; Thomas Mueller, 28; Goetze, 26.

They will all be more than capable of defending their title.

The question will be whom the Germans have developed by then to challenge the older guard.

"You never know what happens in the future," Schweinsteiger said. "But we are fit, we are hungry and we have some good players who are around 25 years of age. It will give us hunger.

"The important thing is that the young guys have the experience of this tournament. Experience is very important in football.

"We have some players who have a big future and I think the Spain team and the Brazilian team changed a little bit.

"We believe we are now the No 1 team in the world. We have to enjoy this moment and not talk about the future too much.

"The most important thing is that we have quality. We have quality players, and we have the tradition in our game.

"We have the mentality of the Germans. We can run, we can pressure, we can defend and the mix between this is the solution. We have a young team. But we have some players like Philipp Lahm, Mesut Ozil and Per Mertesacker who have the experience. This mix makes a big difference."

The path to Sunday's glorious success started when the Germany U-21 team beat England 4-0 in the European Championship final in Malmo five years ago.

Had Sami Khedira been fit to start Sunday's final, six players from that team – Neuer, Benedikt Howedes, Jerome Boateng, Khedira, Ozil and Hummels – would have started the game against Argentina. An astonishing return by any reckoning.

Asked whether this was Germany's best generation, Hummels dodged the question, although he did acknowledge the achievements of that U-21 team.

"I was born in 1988. I have seen only 20 years of German football. Maybe it's the best generation of the ones I have seen, but I can't say anything about 1974, 1982, 1986, 1990 because I didn't see them.


"We knew that this was a special team in 2009. If you see the names, there are something like 10 players in the World Cup who played in that tournament. Six or seven of them are from Germany.

"We're very happy with what has happened, the whole tournament. Winning the World Cup is something special not just for your career but for your whole life."

The challenge now, having accomplished the mission laid out in the aftermath of Euro 2000, is to keep this golden generation hungry for more success.

They will be received in Berlin as heroes, the first team from a unified Germany to win the World Cup. In 1990, months before reunification, their homecoming celebrations were in Frankfurt.

They seem, on the whole, to be a humble, grounded bunch, but they now have a status that German footballers have not experienced for a generation. Later this month, the U-19 European Championship finals will be staged in Hungary with Germany involved, as well as the defending champions Serbia, but not Ireland or England.

The English are current European champions at U-17 level, Spain at U-21. If ever there was evidence of the importance of these junior tournaments it was there at the Maracana on Sunday night when six U-21 team-mates lifted the World Cup trophy. (© Independent News Service)

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