[GERMANY] Four years ago, German fans sang as they rode the Berlin subway to the World Cup final between Italy and France. Host Germany had the previous day won the third-place game. To the tune of "Yellow Submarine," they belted out, "The real world champ already won its game, already won its game, already won its game."
It was somewhat peculiar how a third-place finish for a soccer world power on home soil was treated like a victory.
Half a million fans gathered in 2006 when the German players appeared in Berlin’s “Fan Mile” to celebrate the consolation prize.
Germany’s largest circulation newspaper, Bild, dubbed the home team, “World champions of the heart.”
A country with three world titles -- and tied with Brazil for final appearances -- had lowered its expectations.
Beating traditional powers had become a rarity for Germany, whose decline was punctuated with a 5-1 home loss to England in World Cup qualifying for the 2002 World Cup.
Germany did manage to finish runner-up at 2002 Japan/South Korea-hosted World Cup, but a kind draw meant it avoided all the favorites until falling to Brazil in the final. In fact, the German media were united in calling the USA the better team when it fell to Germany in the quarterfinals.
Germany exited in the first round of Euro 2004, and the national team program was in dire straits as the World Cup it was hosting approached. Juergen Klinsmann, who had no previous coaching experience but was a World Cup and European champion as player, came in as an emergency hire, charged with coaching a team that lacked a world-class field player besides Michael Ballack.
Klinsmann fielded a young, attack-minded team. As was the case four years earlier, the draw was kind to the Germans. The toughest team it played before falling to Italy in the semifinals was Argentina, which fell to the Germans on penalty kicks after its starting keeper left the game injured.
Two years later, with Klinsmann’s former assistant, Joachim Loew, at the helm, Germany finished runner-up at Euro 2008, losing in the final 1-0 to Spain. The Germans once again benefitted from the draw -- they avoided the Netherlands, France and Italy – but it started to look like the Klinsmann-Loew project to revive the German game might be working.
The real test would be in 2010 in South Africa. Loew included only seven players from the 2006 World Cup team and put his faith in stars of Germany’s U-21 European Championship winners.
With an average age of 25, Germany fielded the second youngest team at the 2010 World Cup, next to Ghana.
Ten members of the 23-man roster were under 25: regulars Mesut Ozil, Thomas Mueller, Manuel Neuer, Sami Khedira and Jerome Boateng – and Holger Badstuber, Toni Kroos, Marko Marin, Dennis Aogo and Serdar Tasci, who all saw playing time.
Even most of the team’s veterans are on the young side: Philipp Lahm (26 years old), Bastian Schweinsteiger (25), Per Mertesacker (25) and Lukas Podolski (25).
The young Germans faced England in the round of 16 and won, 4-1, then faced Argentina, red hot going into the quarterfinals, and thumped Messi and Co., 4-0.
Germany will be the tournament’s highest scoring team unless the Netherlands hits four against Spain in the final to match Germany’s 16 goals in seven games. The Germans, who in the past had been known for efficiency, entertained in South Africa.
Loew’s team also demonstrated that Germany is taking advantage the ever-increasing diversity of its population. Half its 2010 World Cup players were immigrants or the sons of immigrants.
In the past, players such as the skillful attacking midfielder Ozil, who is of Turkish descent, were either neglected by the national team program or opted to play for the nation of their heritage. Now, taking advantage of all the soccer talent in a nation of 82 million is paying off.
The influence of players with foreign roots, says Loew, “is good for our playing style.”
After losing, 1-0, to Spain, in the semifinal, Germany finished third again in 2010, beating Uruguay, 3-2, on Saturday.
Before the game, the Germans announced there would be no celebration at the Berlin Mile for the consolation prize this time.
"The big goal was to be better than third,” said Lahm, the captain. “We already had big fan events in 2006 and 2008 when we won nothing."
But the Germans did win something in South Africa: the admiration of fans who weren’t their own.