I won’t even attempt to recapture the magic of the FIFA World Cup 2010 (that would be plain stupid right), but would just focus on my favourite – Germany. Die Mannschaft arrived at the rainbow nation amidst many doubts over the team selection and a dark cloud in the form of the conspicuous absence of their charismatic leader Michael Ballack, through injury. The team was the youngest of all nations and consisted mainly of unheard names who wished to share the field (and certainly try to better) legends such as Messi, Kaka, Cannavaro and many more.
But with the Germans, we could be sure of two things, meticulous preparation and pristine fitness. There was an abundance of that on display in their opener against Australia at the scenic Durban stadium. What was not expected was the kind of refreshing football on show and the mauling of the tenacious socceroos. Podolski, Klose, Cacau and a relatively unknown kid – one Thomas Muller got on the score-sheet to destroy the team from down under. Their rapid play and one touch passing mesmerised the doubters, immediately placing them among the top teams.
However all that euphoria would not take long to fizzle out and things started to go pear shaped in the very next match, as “Mr World Cup” Miroslav Klose saw red courtesy a dubious decision. What probably hurt more, was Podolski missing a spot kick for the Germans from open play, a blasphemy that has its one and only precedent way back in 1974 (the unfortunate player being Uli Hoeness). German players missing a penalty is as unheard of as monsoons in Sahara, but it did happen and the consequent loss to Serbia was the first instance of top international pressure for this young bunch of footballers.
The next match was a do or die encounter against Ghana, who had the support of not just their entire nation, but the whole continent. Pressure and Germans traditionally go hand in hand, however the slim 1-0 victory did just enough to douse the butterflies and set up a meeting with old foes England in the first knockout stage. Germany topped the group as expected, albeit with a Serbian blot on their report card. Topping the group though, may not have been as good as it sounded, considering that set them up for matches against England, Argentina and Spain in succession (hoping each team went as far).
Germany-England ties always have an edge to them due to the political and footballing history of the nations. If the British (and the world) can never forgive Hitler, so the Germans just can’t get over the phantom goal of 1966. Each team had big words to say before the match, but the English were intent on practising penalties more than anything, knowing only too well how it all unravels for them in that roulette of football. But they needn’t have bothered. It was the pace of this young German team that tore apart the three lions’ hearts, and Frank Lampard’s phantom goal not withstanding, the islanders never stood a chance.
Their next opponent were the almighty Argentinians. It was to be a repeat fixture of the previous year’s tournament, but the South Americans now boasted the World Player of the Year in their ranks and the enigmatic (if eccentric) Maradona as the coach. And the kind of football displayed by the Argentinians till then must have given even the hardest of Germans sleepy nights. It was billed as the match of the tournament (thus far) and in a way failed to live up to those expectations. Not that this statement would convince a German fan, but Argentina just failed to show up. Or maybe they did, but were more in awe of the show being put up by M/s Muller and co. Then there was the question of that enigma called Klose.
The Germans were now certainly among the favourites, and with Brazil being knocked out by the hard fighting Dutch, their semi-final opponents Spain were probably the only team to match their calibre. The game was foreshadowed by Paul the oracle, an octopus with an uncanny understanding of international footballing dynamics. His prediction would not have gone down well in his native land, but the team had far bigger worries than invertebre prophecies.
The third place playoff is often labelled as the “match no one wants to play”. But it can also be the most fearless game for these players with not being much at stake. And it did prove that way as both teams attacked with abandon. It was a bitter sweet ending for young Muller who had witnessed his world cup dream end from the sidelines only a few days ago, but took over the lead in the golden boot standing with his fifth goal of the tournament and the first of the game.
Thomas Muller won the Golden Boot and the Best Young Player award, and what an achievement that is for someone not even old enough to marry in most countries. All of 20 years young, this shining gem in the German crown is only going to get brighter and I’m sure will have set his eyes on Euro 2012 to guide his team a step higher on the podium from their 2008 performance.