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Euro 2024: Rejuvenated Germany 'awaken something' in country

July 5, 2024

Germany's home Euros have ended earlier than they would have liked. Despite a bitter loss to Spain, Julian Nagelsmann and his team believe they have lifted their country's spirits and their own future hopes.

Florian Wirtz celebrates with outstretched arms
Florian Wirtz scored in Germany's first and last matches of Euro 2024Image: Kai Pfaffenbach/REUTERS

Germany's last few tournaments have ended in recriminations, rage and retirements. Though it still stings, the feeling of a 2-1 defeat to Spain in the quarterfinals of Euro 2024 on Friday comes with plenty of pride and no little optimism for the future.

"It's sad that it's over," said striker Niclas Füllkrug, who went desperately close to sending the game to penalties in the dying moments. "There was a euphoria, a sense of community that hasn't existed for a long time. It's getting harder by the second to realize that [it is over]. There is silence in the dressing room. The coach found good words but there's no consolation at the moment."

That sense of euphoria will, when the pain is less fresh, be something this Germany squad will cling to. The country has got behind this side and been rewarded with strong displays, some memorable moments and plenty of drama, even if it's ended too soon.

Germany team spark interest

"We've awakened something in a country that's too much in the doldrums," said coach Julian Nagelsmann as he lamented an "undeserved” loss. "We had a great symbiosis with the people in the country, got people in front of the television to watch football who hadn't done so in the past. But we would have liked to have done it for a week longer."

From the start of the tournament, when Germany brushed aside Scotland with a stirring 5-1 win, there has been a sense that this Euros could have a similar effect to the Sommermärchen (summer fairy tale) of the home World Cup in 2006. Back then, a young side led by Jürgen Klinsmann and assistant coach Joachim Löw captured the public imagination, before bowing out in the semifinals.

"We'll probably realize in the next few days that we played a good tournament," said Toni Kroos after he ended a storied-career in defeat. "We can all be proud. We've all gone one better than before [the previous Euros]. I'm convinced that the team will continue on its path."

That was the case in 2006, when emerging talents like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and Lukas Podolski became core members of the side that won the World Cup in 2014.

Kroos had already announced his retirement from all football ahead of the tournament and there is a chance that the defeat to Spain will also be the last time Manuel Neuer, Thomas Müller and possibly even Ilkay Gündogan will be seen in a Germany shirt.

Changing of the guard

Retirements are a natural part of tournament football, and Germany will go in to World Cup 2026 confident that the likes of Florian Wirtz and Jamal Musiala can follow the path laid by Schweinsteiger and Podolski.

Antonio Rüdiger sits on the pitch after Germany are eliminated from Euro 2024
Defeat to Spain was tough to take, but this exit has been more positive than most for GermanyImage: J. J. Guillen/Agencia EFE/IMAGO

Since taking over from Hansi Flick in 2023 with Germany at a low ebb, Nagelsmann has played a big part in the change of both the team and the mood surrounding it. He's been unafraid to trust players like Füllkrug, Maximilian Mittelstädt and Deniz Undav based on domestic form rather than reputation.

He's also brought Müller and Kroos back in to the fold without altering the balance of his squad and has been brave in defending his players when necessary.

"It's incredible team spirit, even from the lads who haven't played that often. I've never experienced that before," said Joshua Kimmich.

Togetherness, both within a squad and a nation, have been a feature of this tournament. Whether it can be transferred to tasks outside Germany is the next question for Nagelsmann. For now, the pain of defeat is bitter. But the mood in the squad, and the nation, is not.

Edited by: Mark Hallam