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Culture

Opinion: A Distinctly German Final

Even though the German team is out of the European Championships, there’s still plenty keeping the Germans interested. Perhaps that’s because they think the Greeks, who are in the final, are really a German team.

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Go Germany, er, Greece!

As the Greeks won the match against the Czech Republic on Thursday, the German television commentator Johannes B. Kerner couldn’t stop himself: One man had made it possible, he said. This man: Otto Rehhagel.

In the tabloid paper, the Express, the headline was “Otto in the final.” Yes, the Germans seem to believe that the dramatic Greek victory was really all down to the team’s trainer, Otto Rehhagel, a veteran of German soccer.

So, aside from the night-time honking of the horns as the many Greek communities celebrated their victory with a lap of honor around the streets of German cities, Germans also felt a glow of satisfaction.

Otto Rehhagel had made it; as he said at one point: “I found a team where everybody did what they wanted, and I turned them into a team where everybody does what they’re good at.”

So the final on Sunday, when Greece meets Portugal, has a strong German interest. Will Rehhagel beat the Portuguese? That’s what the Germans want to know.

A German referee, a German ball

Der deutsche WM-Schiedsrichter Markus Merk

Markus Merk

There are other German angles—the referee of Sunday’s game, Markus Merk (photo), is a dentist from the southwestern German town of Kaiserslautern. Some Portuguese media have already complained that “Otto Rehhagel’s team” will have an advantage as a result.

In his inaugural speech on Thursday, Horst Köhler, the new German president, pointed out that although the new seam-free soccer balls used at the championship might be made in Asia, they were a high-tech product designed in Germany, and that was good for German jobs.

And, following the resignation of Rudi Völler as German trainer and the decision by Ottmar Hitzfeld not to take on the job, Otto Rehhagel’s name is being mentioned as a possible successor. It was scarcely polite, but the interviewer asked him before even the sweat was dry after the game, whether he’d be interested in the job.

Come on, he said, it’s only a couple of minutes after the end of the game; I’m the trainer here, my team has a right that I concentrate wholly on them. Which didn’t mean no to the top job in German soccer, of course. But somehow the man ought to be allowed to finish this job before he starts on the next.

EM 2004 Portugal Cristiano Ronaldo

Portugal's shooting star Cristiano Ronaldo with the German-designed ball.

So, one way and another, with a German referee, a German trainer and even a German ball, Sunday will be a major day in German soccer history. It’s only a pity the German team can’t be there to see it.

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