By Mike Woitalla
"My name is Everton, like the team," says the manager of Quiosque Zero Nove, a beachside restaurant in the Flamengo district of Rio de Janeiro. "I have no idea why my father named me that. But I like it."
Everton is in a good mood as he uncovers the big HD TV. Business is booming during the World Cup, he says. Makes sense. His kiosk provides beachgoers a convenient viewing venue.
But there’s something peculiar about the elaborately costumed fans who have been congregating outside. They seem to hail from England, Ghana, Japan, Croatia, South Korea -- all the eliminated teams. Then I see the camera crew. The “fans” are actors for a Coca-Cola commercial, which will demonstrate how the soda can make you happy again after your team gets bounced out of a World Cup.
The first fans who arrive at Quiosque Zero Nove for the Germany-Algeria game hail from Poland. They will cheer for Germany, which has two Polish-born players on the roster, Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose. Besides, they are from Gdansk, known in German as Danzig. “Half the residents have German names,” says Rafel Fryger. “I use my wife’s last name. My original last name is Kluck.”
And, he says, the best Polish players play in the Bundesliga: Borussia Dortmund’s Jakub Blaszczykowski, Lukasz Piszczek and Robert Lewandowski, who is headed to Bayern Munich.
Fans from Germany follow. They came to Brazil not specifically for the World Cup. More than 250,000 German tourists visit Brazil annually, third to Argentines and Americans.
Before this World Cup, Guenter Netzer, star midfielder on the team considered the most brilliant in German history, the 1972 European champions, said this is the most talented German squad ever. But it doesn’t seem that way against Algeria, which plays the Germans to a scoreless tie after 90 minutes before they squeak through to the quarterfinals with a 2-1 overtime win.
Based on Monday’s performance, Coach Joachim Loew’s team needs to improve significantly to get back on script and capture Germany’s fourth World Cup and first since 1990.
Loew has presided over a rejuvenated German team since he took over from Jurgen Klinsmann after the 2006 World Cup. It finished third in 2010 and the youngsters who shone in South Africa -- where it beat England (4-1) and Argentina (4-0) -- are now in their prime. They are expected to match the glory years of the 1970s.
After the 1972 Euro victory, Germany -- then West Germany -- won the 1974 World Cup, but it has never since garnered the admiration or success of the Franz Beckenbauer-led teams.
The Germans won only one game at the 1978 World Cup. They finished runner-up in 1982 but were seen as villains, because of the "Disgrace of Gijon" win over Austria and Toni Schumacher’s assault on Frenchman Patrick Battiston.
After they finished runner-up to Argentina in 1986, so unimpressive was its style of play that Beckenbauer, now the coach said, “Fortunately we didn’t become world champion, because it would have been a defeat for soccer.”
Coach Beckenbauer did guide Germany to its third World Cup title at Italia '90, the most forgettable World Cup ever in terms of entertaining soccer.
Germany exited the 1994 World Cup in the quarterfinals and again at that stage in 1998 under Coach Berti Vogts.
In 2002, they finished second to Brazil with a workmanlike squad that faced no world powers on the way to the final and featured only one world-class field player, Michael Ballack.
On home soil, in 2006, the Germans finished third and so low were expectations that half a million fans gathered when the German players appeared at Berlin’s “Fan Mile” to celebrate the consolation prize.
It was, though, the beginning of a German soccer renaissance. Germany was finally tapping talent from its immigrant community and the 2010 team, the second youngest in South Africa, added creativity to its renowned grit and fighting spirit. They were stifled by eventual champ Spain in the semifinals.
All signs pointed to an even better German team at this World Cup, and it looked that way when they trounced Portugal, 4-0, in its opener.
Then came the 2-2 tie with Ghana, a 1-0 win over the USA, and the struggle against the Algerians, who marked the Germans tightly in the midfield and exposed their defenders as very limited in their ability to contribute to the attack.
On Friday, the Germans face France in Rio and will reveal how far their revival has really come.