I don't think I'm revealing any deep secrets when I announce that the Germans have an image problem. A problem with wide ramifications -- but I'm talking strictly soccer here. Only Germans
root for Germany. Only Germans want Germany to win.
And win they do, more than any country except Brazil. So they are to be admired, to be respected, to be feared. But not loved. As if
to confirm their reputation as the ultimate soccer nasties, the Germans duly subdued the Turks yesterday -- something which we all knew
they would do, but which we all hoped wouldn't
By beating the Turks the methodical Germans (dammit, yes, methodical!) duly squelched the appealingly romantic notions that have been building up around the Turks, fueled by
their incredible comebacks against the Czech Republic and Croatia.
That was superb, stirring stuff, two unlikely, impossible wins against the odds for a team that no one really fancied.
Then on to face the Germans -- with the odds now stacked mountainously high against the Turks, suddenly bereft of a whole bunch of top players because of injuries and suspensions.
so what? That's part of the romance that is so appealing. Maybe these amazing Turks were now capable of anything -- yes even beating the Germans. And for 45 minutes they looked like they were
going to pull it off. They were the better team, they peppered Jens Lehmann's goal with shots -- and they got the go-ahead goal.
The Germans looked pretty woeful, but they tied the
game with a nice goal before halftime, their one shot on goal. Oh yes -- did I mention that part of Germany's image problem is that they're seen to get whatever breaks are going?
When, late in the game, Turkey tied the game at 2-2, for a moment it looked as though yet another miraculous comeback was on the cards. But ... the Germans don't do fairy-tale endings. They were
the ones who came back. Lucky? You don't have to take my word for it -- Coach Joachim Loew said it all: "We were lucky enough to score in the 90th minute."
But -- what can
one say? Another effective performance from Germany. Possibly -- probably -- they deserved their win in the end. (I -- and most of you I gather -- watching on television missed most of the second half
thanks to a technical hitch of the type that I didn't think could any longer happen in hi-tech Europe).
The Germans usually do deserve to win. But rarely do they deserve to win on
the basis of playing superior soccer. Ay, there's the rub. What makes rooting for Germany such an impossibility is the nature of their game. I have to use that word methodical again. The
straightforward efficiency of German soccer, combined with the excellent -- but surely not outstanding -- technical skill of the players, seems to minimize errors. If that doesn't sound wildly
exciting, well, it isn't. Watching German soccer brings to my mind, again and again, the comment of Berti Vogts, that compared to Brazilians, German players move "like refrigerators."
We saw it yesterday. And we'll see it again in the final. And -- a reminder from only two years ago -- we saw it during World Cup 2006 when Germany's very ordinary performance
was over-hyped to excruciating proportions.
Actually, that 2006 team made itself as popular as a German team is ever going to get. They did it by not winning their own tournament -- and
Juergen Klinsmann, the mastermind of the debacle, was hailed as a genius. I mention that as further proof that German soccer is unalterably perverse.
The Germans at this Euro will win
no admirers. They have played five games so far. Two of them -- against Croatia and Austria -- were dreadful beyond any telling of it. Two were won with methodical relentlessness -- those against
Poland and Portugal. And from those four games, what soccer memories do you carry, what exciting moments, what magical plays linger in your mind? OK, just kidding. For me, the strongest impression was
made Michael Ballack's atomic free kick against Austria. And that's it.
As for yesterday's game, maybe there was something memorable from the Germans in the second half that
was blacked out. I suspect not.
Just as German soccer does not deal in romantic notions, it also has little to do with the Beautiful Game. The closest the Germans ever got to playing an
aesthetically pleasing style was the version of total soccer (a style borrowed from the Dutch) with which they won the 1974 World Cup. Then they had a genius in command, Franz Beckenbauer. Geniuses
have been noticeably absent from the German ranks ever since. (But, to be fair: geniuses are not exactly thick on the ground in the rest of soccer.)
So, while the rest of us are looking
forward to what ought
to be a delightful display of soccer between two teams that have dared to play skillful, creative soccer -- Russia and Spain -- the Germans will of course be ratcheting
up their grinch index, working out how to smother all that skill, to subdue it with their own more limited and much less attractive version of their game.
The good news is that, in the
first half yesterday, a makeshift Turkish team repeatedly made a mockery of the German defense. They really did. But they lost the game.
Beware Spain, look out Russia. Whichever of you
faces the Germans, you'll have to deal with the German image problem: that of a team that somehow or other, without ever touching the heights, will overpower you without outplaying you, will make
the plays that count -- and then will abscond with yet another trophy while we all shake our heads, wondering just how they did it, and wishing that they hadn't.