As the German squad arrived home in Frankfurt early Monday morning, celebrating Thomas Mueller's Golden Boot and a third-place finish, we reflect on the lasting legacy of Joachim Loew's young, adventurous team.
German fans flew the flag with pride both in South Africa and back home
Germany's national football team revived fond memories of the 2006 World Cup with another stirring performance at the 2010 edition of the tournament in South Africa on Saturday.
The team's refreshing brand of offensive soccer inspired fans of the sport worldwide and made many rethink the way they perceive not only German football, but also Germany itself.
Germany repeated its placing from 2006, the tournament it hosted, by prevailing 3-2 over a determined Uruguay team in Saturday's match for third place.
"We're not going back home to Germany empty-handed, but with a third place finish, which the team has earned," said national team head coach Joachim Loew, the architect of Germany's 2010 showing.
During the 2006 World Cup, Germany showed itself as a friendly and cosmopolitan country, and the event was widely regarded as an overwhelming success from both the organizational and entertainment points of view. This year, the national team earned the world's respect with its exciting, high-scoring style of football.
"Abroad, this team is perceived as being very likeable," said newly elected German President Christian Wulff, who flew to South Africa to watch his country play Uruguay. "Some Africans have told me this team is something of a 'rainbow' team, diverse and convincing," he said.
The stirring performance has even led to a recommendation by Wulff that Loew receive the Federal Cross of Merit for service to the nation, and that the team be awarded the Silver Bay Laurel Leaf, the highest sports award in Germany.
"The team is the best ambassador Germany has in the world," Wulff added.
German soccer legend Franz Beckenbauer also praised the national team. "The mood in South Africa was euphoric, and many people have told me that the German team has been the best," he said.
National team manager and former striker Oliver Bierhoff gleaned a similarly positive message from the tournament. "We have managed to create a new picture of Germany, not only in a sporting sense, but also socially," he said.
Germany's young, multicultural squad celebrated a second consecutive third place finish
Youthful team shines without Ballack
The sense of just how much Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, Thomas Mueller and co. have changed the way Germany is perceived can not be overstated. No longer will there be comparisons between the national team and tanks, but rather respect and recognition for what was regarded as a thrilling and youthful way of playing football.
"In my opinion this is the best team with the most quality of all the national teams I've played on up until now," said Lahm, who was given the captain's armband for the tournament in the absence of the injured Michael Ballack.
The loss of Ballack, Germany's lone yet aging superstar, caused a lot of stress among German fans in the weeks leading up to the World Cup. But the absence of the new Bayer Leverkusen midfielder turned out to be an opportunity for the national team to reinvent itself.
Ballack said he was watching with amazement as his young countrymen put in some memorable performances in South Africa, particularly the 4-0 thrashing of Diego Maradona's Argentina.
"It's scary that such a young team could take a classy team like Argentina," he said.
Germany also put in great performances against Australia, England and Uruguay, though group stage games against Serbia and Ghana left a little to be desired.
The team finished with a goal tally of 16 over seven games, having conceded five. What's more, Mueller, 20, picked up the Golden Boot award with five of those goals and three assists. Mueller also took the award for best young player.
Semifinal disappointment soon turned to third-place pride for German fans
After slotting home eight goals in two games against England and Argentina, many pundits were tipping Germany to go all the way, but the eventual champions Spain proved an insurmountable obstacle.
The Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet summed up Germany's 1-0 semifinal loss to La Furia Roja with this comment: "An attractive, young Germany required two years (from the Euro 2008 loss to Spain) to rehearse its own variation of spectacular Spanish football. Spain needed 90 minutes to show that the Germans are not yet the finished product."
This was a point touched on by Schweinsteiger, who himself had an excellent World Cup as assistant captain: "We have many young players, who have a big future ahead of them. They have now gathered a lot of experience from their first tournament. That is good for future tournaments."
In addition to being young and relatively unknown outside of Germany, the team has also been the subject of much attention due to its multicultural makeup. Eleven of the 23 players on the World Cup squad, including Mesut Oezil, Sami Khedira and Jerome Boateng, have roots overseas.
Bundesliga in focus
With their strong performances in South Africa, the German players have boosted their transfer values and fueled the rumor mill. No day of the World Cup went by without players being linked with Europe's top clubs.
Mesut Oezil in particular is hot property. Five clubs - FC Barcelona, Manchester City, Manchester United, FC Valencia and FC Arsenal - have apparently expressed interest in securing the playmaker's transfer from Werder Bremen.
Schweinsteiger hopes, however, that the dazzling performances of the Bundesliga players will have the reverse effect. "We have done the Bundesliga proud. In the future, the biggest players will come to Germany," the midfielder speculated.
Loew's future still uncertain
Loew and his assistant Hansi Flick's lucky sweaters took the side far
Even though a fourth World Cup title ultimately eluded Germany, Loew earned brownie points as the architect of German football's renaissance in the world's eyes. Theo Zwanziger, president of the German Football Association (DFB), wants to keep the national coach in the job.
"You can trust that I will do everything in my power to make sure that the coaching staff can take this team into the future," he said.
Yet the coach himself has kept a low profile so far. It still apparently frustrates him that contract talks with the DFB broke down before the tournament.
"After the World Cup, I need two or three days to get my thoughts in order. And then I will certainly have several ideas and visions on how to go on further," Loew said.
He already has the next goal clearly in his sights.
By the 2012 European Championship in Poland and Ukraine, or at the latest at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, he wants to win a title. Philipp Lahm is also confident about success in the future.
"As you have already seen at past tournaments, we are always in the running for the title," he said.
Author: Arnulf Boettcher/dfm/tms
Editor: Chuck Penfold