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Germany, and the Least-Celebrated Fantastic Finish

June 23rd, 2018 · No Comments · Football, Germany, Russia 2018, soccer, World Cup

Germany’s do-or-die, last-kick-wonder-goal, 2-1 victory over Sweden tonight was perhaps the best match, so far, in the 2018 World Cup.

It also may be the least popular result, so far, among global soccer fans.

Two concepts that call for further reflection.

This was a crucial match for Germany and, perhaps, for the outcome of Russia 2018.

A defeat would have ingloriously ended — after just two group matches — Germany’s bid to defend its 2014 World Cup championship, and been its earliest exit of the tournament since 1938.

It would have prompted deep reflection among the Germans over coach Joakim Low’s bizarre, ultra-attack-oriented tactics that some have described as a 2-3-5 formation — one which left German’s two central defenders open to one-pass-and-in-on-the-keeper counter-attacks that led to Mexico’s 1-0 victory and Sweden’s 1-0 halftime lead.

(Low’s reinvent-the-wheel audacity reminded me more than a little of U.S. coach Steve Sampson’s deep belief that he could Win by Formation at the 1998 World Cup, when the U.S. used an exotic 3-6-1 set-up to, unsuccessfully, counter Germany. I will always remember Sampson using packets of no-cal sweeteners to lay it out for me on the table cloth of a restaurant.)

A German defeat also would have set off spontaneous celebrations pretty much everywhere in the world that is not Germany.

A draw would have kept them in the tournament, but on life support, needing Mexico to defeat Sweden next week while Germany defeated South Korea. (Though cynics have suggested that, in this scenario, Mexico and Sweden would have contrived an effortless draw, putting them both in the knockout rounds and eliminating Germany.)

Only a victory would do, really. Only victory would leave Die Mannschaft in control of its destiny.

And they achieved it, in spite of the early deficit, in spite of playing with 10 men the final 15 minutes of the game, by leveling in the 48th minute on a scramble in front of the net that led to a goal off the knee of Marco Reus and into the net … and then winning when Toni Kroos curved in a brilliant goal in the final seconds of the fifth minute of added time.

Any fair-minded fan must concede Germany put in a tremendous effort on a stifling night in Sochi — but they do not have to be happy about it. (To get a sense of it, have a listen to the first 10 minutes of this podcast, where each of three British journalists remark just how very, very much they wanted Germany to lose.)

The unpopularity of Germany’s soccer team among a global audience is pretty much accepted. Why that should be is a bit harder to pin down.

–Is it a sense of a sort of joyless, mechanical approach to the game? If the Germans put on 11 robots, would they emote much less than the flesh-and-blood players?

–Is it a lingering animosity from two bloody wars of conquest Germany led in the 20th century?

–Is is about “not looking like” the multi-ethnic teams of Brazil and France, through the eyes of neutral observers in Latin America, Africa and Asia?

–Does Germany just win too often? Is the world tired of seeing the Germans win in 1954 (defeating Puskas’s Hungarians) and 1974 (defeating Cruyff’s Netherlands) and 1990 (defeating Italy) and 2014 (defeating Argentina and Lionel Messi)?

Maybe it is all of that, and more.

The way the game unfolded and all the churning emotion going on beneath it, as most of the world pulled desperately for Sweden, made for a memorable occasion. I am sure I will remember Kroos’s goal for a very long time. And it likely will be the case for Germany-haters, as well.

Maybe at the end it was this: It was one of those rare World Cup matches in which there were zero disinterested observers.


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