Anyone you talk to in Germany these days seems to have only one topic of conversation: the 2006 world cup. But whether it’s the man on the street or your expert or a commentator, everyone is bound to have an opinion of his own. Arunava Chaudhuri sees some method in the madness.
German national coach Jürgen Klinsmann kicking a ball at the World Cup draw in Leipzig, Dec. 9, 2005
Optimism seems to be growing that Germany can win the world cup. In an opinion poll conducted a fortnight ago by the Emnid media research institute, over 40 percent of the Germans were frankly optimistic about winning the world cup for a fourth time, which is a considerable rise over the 19 percent a month ago – possibly a result of the poor showing in a string of international friendlies.
To tell the truth, Germans are dreaming of a final against the mighty Brazilians on July 9, in Berlin, and that this time - unlike in 2002 - Germany will beat them.
When I talk to my German friends, whether football fans or otherwise, everyone seems to be confident that Germany will do well. Anything between reaching the quarterfinals and the title, that seems to be the level of expectation. What surprised me was that even the biggest sceptics think that anything less than the quarterfinals would be – well, unthinkable. Just a bit more, and one could have taken it for sheer arrogance.
Experts tend to be level-headed, so they see a tough tournament coming up for Germany’s young but talented side. Winning against Costa Rica, Ecuador or Poland in Group A shouldn’t be too much of trouble, but after that the youngsters will have to deal with such tough pre-quarterfinal opponents as England or Sweden, with Argentina or the Netherlands waiting for them on the sidelines in the quarterfinals, cudgel in hand.
2006 world cup organising committee chairman and German football legend Franz Beckenbauer thinks that reaching the semifinals would be quite a success for the hosts. His favourites, as for many others, are Brazil, followed by a number of teams with fairly good chances, among them, Germany.
Coach Jürgen Klinsmann has declared that from the day he was presented to the world as the German coach he’s only had one aim: to win the cup. Such positive thinking could well spread to the ‘boys’, he believes, all that young talent for whom the world cup - at home - might be coming just a couple of years too early.
German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn was talking to dw-world.de about Germany’s chances: “It's entirely within our reach. The support of 80 million Germans will be a very important factor. In the national team you sense that it can be done, we can win the title. I have a lot of confidence in our team.”
But legendary German striker Gerd Müller, assistant coach of the FC Bayern Munich II, told me in Calcutta that reaching the quarterfinals would be good enough, going a step further to the semifinals would be a great success for Jürgen Klinsmann and his boys. Müller has his doubts about the young German team and Klinsmann’s new- fangled training methods. He thinks the coaches and the players should concentrate on the basics and just play football. That’s what he’d do as the coach, he gave me to understand, but he hoped for the best and wished Klinsmann well.
German record international and 1990 world cup winning captain Lothar Matthäus says that he expects Germany to reach the quarterfinals at the very least, and from there on: everything’s possible.
Politicians are optimists by profession as well as compunction: Chancellor Angela Merkel, Home Minister Wolfgang Schäuble or Labour Minister Franz Müntefering, all have high hopes for the German team. Not everyone’s talking about the title, but they do hope for a successful German campaign, with economic and other spin-off’s for Germany as a country.
A realistic estimate
Going by pure facts, one would have to honestly say that Germany isn’t in the top bracket of the title contenders. Brazil is the overwhelming favourite with teams like Argentina and Italy close on their heels, and sides like France, the Netherlands or England also fancy their chances – Germany could join them.
But there are other factors: the tournament at home, for one – and Germany is what they call a tournament team, with a tremendous sense of focus once they are into it. Just take the last, that’s the 2002 world cup, in Japan and South Korea. A strong defence and an unbeatable Oliver Kahn between the posts took Germany to the finals.
The 2005 Confederations Cup last summer showed what Germany can do when they play their best football and are cheered on by the fans. The teenage duo Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski caught the imagination of the public with their skills and their blind understanding. Fans and media called them just “Schweini & Poldi”. The media worked up a real hype around the team led by captain Michael Ballack, currently Germany’s only real ‘world star’, who’ll be in for more pressure now. Seasoned goalkeeper Oliver Kahn could have been the other ‘star’ of the team, if Klinsmann had not opted for the much-criticized rotation system between Kahn and his arch rival Jens Lehmann. In Germany, Kahn is considered to be the clear number one, but his position has been weakened by a system in which Kahn and Lehmann keep alternating until Klinsmann finally names his keeper for the finals – so there will be no end to the controversy till then, and that in a country where there’s never been a shortage of good goalkeepers.
Klinsmann’s created another problem for himself: he doesn’t have a core group of five or six players for the first eleven. A lot of 19 to 23 year olds have been incorporated into the national team, but some are still to get the international exposure necessary for such a big tournament.
The Germans have a headache with their defence as well. The back line-up could have Arne Friedrich or Patrick Owomoyela on the right, with teenager Marcell Jansen or Thomas Hitzlsperger on the left, but the two central positions in the 4-4-2 system are open, which could be problematic. Klinsmann has been fielding youngsters Per Mertesacker and Robert Huth, preferring to sideline veteran Christian Wörns.
In the midfield Klinsmann has a lot to choose from, the question being, who will play at Ballack’s side? Will it be Ballack’s Bayern Munich team-mates Sebastian Deisler and Bastian Schweinsteiger or will it be Fabian Ernst, Thorsten Frings and Tim Borowski? Klinsmann still has the time to decide whether he wants an attacking or a defensive midfield. Ballack will have to score the goals anyway, that’s the public expectation, whether he heads them in, tries his luck long range or takes a free kick.
And what about the other strikers up front? Odds are on for Miro Klose and Kevin Kuranyi as goal-getters, since everybody’s darling Lukas Podolski is still struggling to regain form and fitness.