Tuesday, July 01, 2014

World Cup secret confession: I'm supporting Germany

It started in South Africa in 2010. The team of the tournament for me weren't the Spanish game-stranglers with their tiki-taka yawn-off brand of non-football. It was Germany.

They played with verve and vim, bursting forward with pace to hit teams on the break. They hammered England. They stuffed Argentina. Then they were stifled by Spain, who won with a header at a corner from a defender coming from deep. I was gutted.

So this time around, I wanted Germany to do well. Even though this left me very conflicted in the second round when they faced genuine underdogs Algeria. I have that compulsion to support the little guys against the behemoth. But anyway, they won.

How did this happen? When I was a kid I, along with everyone else, regarded the Germans as the ultimate villains. (Argentina threatened their position as most hated international opponents for a while. Maradona's hand of God and all that. But it always came back to the Germans.)

There was the penalty shoot-out in Italia 90 and at Euro 96. There was Jurgen Klinnsman who was your typical continental diving cheat in the late 80s and early 90s although he has redeemed himself in later life. There was just the boring, automatic progression to final after final. The moment of respite that we all enjoyed was the defeat to Bulgaria in USA 94.

Funny story, that game took place on a Sunday when we had an evening service at our church. Like many others I was a few minutes late to the service because I stayed to watch the last few minutes of Bulgaria's win. As others sheepishly drifted in after us, I remember making eye contact and mouthing 'Bulgaria?' to them, receiving nods and smiles in return. Everyone was happy to see Germany lose. Twenty years later, "Letchkov!" still brings a smile to my brother's face.

I guess my change of heart is a sign of the way Germany changed their game. Although with the forward-running gameplan, they no longer look invincible at the back. In fact, against Algeria, a team prepared to run directly at them, they looked distinctly vulnerable. They have swapped that stereotypical German rigidity for resourcefulness, cheerless grit for exciting guile. Above all the tag 'efficient' no longer applies as it did for several decades. It's not about being efficient - the German trait that makes every BMW look like a lurking Decepticon - it's about entertaining.

So maybe that's it. Maybe it's because they now look beatable. When they were titans they were our enemies. But now we can see they are human and flawed they are easy to love. #

I don't think they will win this World Cup. Someone will exploit their tendency to go forward and punish them for their forwards not tracking back and protecting the defence. But I would love to be proved wrong.

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