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Thursday, April 22, 2010

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The passion and euphoria sparked by Germany's thrilling exploits in the summer of 2006 now belong to the archives, but a continuing commitment to an invigorating brand of attacking football in the years up to and including the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ appears here to stay, especially after they underlined their recent improvement with a second-place finish at UEFA EURO 2008. The German footballing world feels the future is bright, based on a fundamentally reappraised approach to the game, and drawing on rich reserves of experience from a glorious past.

Germany unquestionably rate as one of the world's footballing powers, with a roll of honour featuring three FIFA World Cup™ triumphs. The 1930 and 1950 events aside, Germany have appeared at every FIFA World Cup finals, often performing with distinction. Their first triumph came in 1954 with a shock 3-2 victory over the seemingly invincible Hungarians at the Wankdorf stadium in Berne, a result which made both idols and symbols of hope out of the likes of Fritz Walter and Helmut Rahn.

Orchestrated by 'Kaiser Franz' Beckenbauer and borne on a flood tide of goals from Gerd 'Der Bomber' Muller, Germany registered a second FIFA World Cup win on home soil exactly 20 years later. The Final produced another sensational result, as the Germans recovered from a goal down to Johan Cruyff's stylish and flexible Dutch side to take the game 2-1 at the Olympic stadium in Munich.

Beckenbauer rose from icon to legend in 1990 when he coached the Germans to their third and most recent global triumph. Spurred on by the desire to erase the memory of back-to-back defeats in the previous two Finals - 3-1 to Italy at Spain 1982 and 3-2 to Argentina in Mexico four years later - Lothar Matthaus and Co dug deep into reserves of strength and stamina to avenge the 1986 disappointment with a 1-0 victory against the Argentinians.

The German Football Association (DFB) flagship team now stepped out of the global limelight for a spell, exiting the 1994 tournament in the USA and the 1998 finals in France at the quarter-final stage. However, the team which claimed the trophy at UEFA EURO 1996 in England featured star individuals Matthias Sammer, Jurgen Klinsmann and Oliver Bierhoff, all of whom would later become influential association-level figures, instrumental in embedding a new philosophy and culture.

Germany bounced back at the 2002 FIFA World Cup™ in Korea and Japan with a performance based on attributes which had become trademarks, or perhaps even stereotypes. Rudi Voller's team forged a path all the way to the Final, where their assault on the trophy was only stopped by Brazil. The runners-up spot rated as a sensational success, as the team built around Oliver Kahn and Michael Ballack was a triumph of the collective over the individual, of grit and resolve over style and gloss.

However, a nadir was reached just two years later when Voller threw in the towel after his side failed to survive the group stage at UEFA EURO 2004 in Portugal. Klinsmann's arrival at the helm ushered in an exhilarating new chapter in German footballing history, as the former striker threw a raft of old shibboleths overboard and set out his philosophy and vision for the future. Klinsmann's revolution called on Germany to play attractive, high-paced attacking football, a cry which drew a rapturous reception and underlined the widespread feeling that a new era had dawned.

Klinsmann was rewarded for his courage. The 2006 FIFA World Cup™ on home soil truly represented a new beginning, as the high-scoring Germans thrust their way into the semi-finals, where the young team fell 2-0 against eventual trophy winners Italy before finally coming away with third place. The four heady weeks ignited a new wave of passion for the game, and also saw a nation emerge from its dour shell in an exuberant show of national unity.

Klinsmann's assistant coach Joachim Low took over as the new Bundestrainer and did well in continuing to promote the new philosophy. A team spearheaded by keeper Jens Lehmann, midfielders Michael Ballack and Torsten Frings and goal-getter Miroslav Klose, and mixed with the young blood of Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski, has grown into a unit potentially capable of consistent excellence at the highest level of the world game. At EURO 2008, Low's side advanced from the group stage despite a loss to Croatia, defeated the fancied Portuguese at the quarter-final stage, and held off the Turks 3-2 in the semi-final. Only a loss to Spain in the final denied them what would have been an impressive tournament triumph.

Although Germany could not display as free and open an attacking style as they did at the FIFA World Cup 2006, they are still confident of winning the title in South Africa 2010. "I regard us as a young team with the potential to develop. We were third in 2006, we've just come second, and we'd like to maintain the sequence two years from now. I hope we can go one better when we get there," commented Schweinsteiger right after the EURO final in Vienna's Ernst Happel stadium. His words encapsulate Germany's future aims...

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