"Never ever write off the Germans." It's a cliché at this stage, but there is an element of genuine truth to it too.
Although that said, people just keep on doing it—even the Germans tend to write off the Germans—and the Nationalmanshaft just keeps exceeding expectations.
How many pundits, football people, or those in the media were expecting performances and football we've seen so far? If German media's main concern was the loss of 33-year-old Michael Ballack leading up to their World Cup, you can be sure expectations of lifting the Jules Rimet weren't exactly feverish.
Indeed, I would make the argument that Ballack's loss has been a net benefit for Germany.
Sami Khedira of Stuttgart has been in fine form alongside Schweinsteiger throughout the tournament and offers more pace and dynamism going forward. Likewise, Schweinsteiger has been free to drop deep in Ballack's German quarterback role and you know, actually hit the ball forward. Currently "Schweini" leads the assist charts.
Ballack is a titan of the German game, but he moves and thinks like one. Ballack's absence has released younger members of the team to play quintessentially non-German football. Germans should shudder rather than rejoice that Ballack aims to continue playing for tha national team another two years, great a leader as he had been.
But thinking back to pre-tournament, I can honestly say I didn't see Germany doing anything notable. Brazil/Spain were undoubted favourites. Germany were seen to be in that middle tier of nations, and in their case, "in transistion" (a euphemism of "also-ran" in football circles).
Topping a group with Wales, Azerbijan, Finalnd, and Liechtenstein, nobody was getting ahead of themselves in the pig farms, S & M clubs, and beer breweries across Germany.
But pundits, pre-tournament odds, and indeed myself, for some reason hadn't taken Germany's amazing tournament pedigree this decade into consideration. When you care to look at it, its shocking how people didn't see this German rear guard action coming.
Germany has had 10 solid years of development in both the domestic and national game. Perhaps it was too solid for anyone to notice.
In 2002, Germany reached the World Cup final, despite being, you guessed it, heavily written off pre-tournament. Sure, the football wasn't great, but they got there. The final, I remember thinking, they were somewhat unlucky to lose. This was simply at the time all put down to the heroics of Oliver Kahn (whose broken hand in the final was ironically their downfall).
But new stars and team linchpins like Miroslav Kolse ("The Saudi Slayer") and indeed Michael Ballack emerged during the run.
The Kahn era ended in 2004 as Germany woefully exited at the group stage. Nonetheless, the Euros embarrassment was an excellent opportunity to introduce some new blood and new ideas (in the form of Jurgen Klinnsman and his assistant Joachim Low).
Could anyone have seen Ottmar Hitzfeld or Otto Rehagel bringing in much-needed new blood? All the deadwood was phased out and defenders Arne Friederich, Per Mertesacker, and Philip Lahm began developing their back line partnership together. The rise of Lukas Podolski in time for World Cup 2006 complemented greatly the veterans in the squad and a home tournament achievement of a bronze medal was nothing to be sniffed at.
If England had reacted to embarrassing tournament defeats like Germany had and introduced new management and new talent with fresh ideas, who knows what could have happened in time for 2010. Sadly, management with archaic ideas were brought in both in the dressing room and in the boardroom (and bedroom...). But I digress.
The masterplan continued for Germany behind the scenes. The Dfb were pumping millions into youth football and infrastructure. Redevelopment and renovation of stadia for the World Cup in 2006, along with the financial regulation and increasing attendances of the Bundesliga, proved the fundamentals count in football as the domestic league and national team kept getting stronger.
By the time Bayern met Inter in the Champions League final, Germany was effectively contesting a long decrepit Serie A for the fourth Champions League place.
As for foreigners? As of the end of the 2009-10 season, 90 percent of the German squad were based at one time or another in the domestic league, playing with German players under German coaches. Whatever magic has been part of the German success story has been home cultivated.
Euro 2008 was another spectacular tournament for Germany, who—without almost any praise or pomp—reached the final to lose narrowly to red hot favourites Spain. This time around, Spain will be lucky to beat this Germany team, who have progressed as much as Spain has digressed since then.
So it's not exactly been a shot out of the blue if we're to be honest, has it?
Germany in 10 years have managed to let go of national icons (watching Beckham on the bench playing cheerleader for England was so sad—can you imagine Kahn or Zidane doing that?), introduce fresh management and a new footballing culture, revamp youth football, strengthen the domestic game, blood new stars into the team, and all the while get results in the big tournaments.
It hasn't been mystical, it hasn't been magic and it probably doesn't have much to do with luck. It's been old fashioned good management, prudent investment, and strong leadership from the visionary and passionate ex-players in the DfB and domestic game.
And long may it continue.
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