Thursday, June 24, 2010
A picture perfect night for Germany
I strongly doubt there have been better football evenings than Wednesday night, because that was by and large perfect. Not necessarily the game as played on the pitch, mind you, as national coach Joachim Low and his players were relieved rather than satisfied. But almost everything else was picture book stuff.
• Low ready for England clash
• Brewin: Ozil inspires
• Photo gallery
It started even before the first ball was kicked, when the unexpected news made the rounds that Low would replace Holger Badstuber with Jerome Boateng. That was quite a gamble, as Boateng had never played at left back for Germany before, but I was glad about the decision anyway.
That's because I had written about the possibility of two brothers facing each other at the World Cup more than six months ago (see "Sidelines and Bloodlines"). But this unique scenario had become progressively more unlikely as Low continually benched Jerome Boateng over the past few weeks. Yet the coach changed his mind just in the nick of time and thus inadvertently helped make football history. Perfect.
Then the combination of results in Johannesburg and Nelspruit meant that Ghana went through together with Germany. And that was a picture book solution, too. Not just because the Black Stars played very well against Low's team, especially tactically, and probably didn't deserve to lose. And not just because it's good to finally have an African team in the next round, either. No, it's also because we have a special football relationship with Ghana.
I have already mentioned Jerome Boateng, who - curiously - is already the second German international born to a Ghanaian father (the first was Gerald Asamoah). Jerome's half-brother Kevin-Prince, meanwhile, is playing for the Black Stars at this World Cup - after representing Germany at every youth level.
Both of these Boatengs were born in Germany. And that's also true of the man who currently oversees Ghana's national team: Anthony Baffoe, who grew up in Bonn. Baffoe's nephew Reinhold Yabo, incidentally, plays for Germany's Under-17 side.
Which leads me to another interesting link between Ghana and Germany - names. Reinhold Yabo's ethnic background is thoroughly African (his father is Ghanaian, his mother from Congo), but like Asamoah his first name is as Teutonic as it can get.
The same also holds true for well-known Ghanaian players such as the former internationals Otto Addo and Godfried (an outdated spelling of Gottfried) Aduobe or the current Black Star Hans Sarpei.
True, there are African players from countries other than Ghana who carry German names (Wilfried Sanou, Manfred Kizito or Rolf-Christel Guie-Mien come to mind). But there's no denying that Ghanaian-German relationships, footballing and otherwise, have always been exceptionally good. Heck, no less than six different Germans have coached the Black Stars in the past, one of them twice.
So it somehow felt very, very right to see both the German and the Ghanaian players celebrating on Wednesday night. Jerome Boateng, who has got the shape of the African continent tattooed on his left arm, said: "I'm relieved this game is now behind me and I'm happy Ghana are also in the next round." Perfect.
However, the Boatengs were not the main actors in Wednesday's drama. In part because the match was very fair and the referee was much better than people had feared. Which was also perfect. From a German viewpoint, the role of central protagonist fell to a slender and frail-looking, technically gifted midfielder. He could have become the biggest scapegoat in his country's football history when he missed a sitter in the first half that might have led to Germany not making the knockout rounds for the first time ever.
Instead, he became his country's football saviour with a fine shot in the second half, prompting young girls in front of giant screens all over Germany to shriek and scream his name. One of them later excitedly told a television reporter: "Mesut was the best! Mesut won it for us!"
Did I say "his country's football history" and "his country's football saviour"? Yes, I did. Because this is Mesut Ozil's country. This is where he was born and raised. And it was oh-so perfect that his strike sent a team through that will certainly be labelled "typically German" and showered with stereotypes ahead of Sunday's game in the second round - but that first and foremost represents a new Germany, more colourful, more diverse, more eclectic than in the past.
Both Serdar Tasci and Mesut Ozil were born in Germany to Turkish parents. Miroslav Klose, Piotr Trochowski and Lukas Podolski were born in Poland to Polish parents but came to Germany as kids (at eight, five and two years of age respectively). Marko Marin was born near the border between what are now Croatia and Bosnia to Serbian parents and moved to Frankfurt when he was two.
Then there's a large group of players who were born in Germany to a German mother and a father from another country. Mario Gomez, for instance, is the son of a Spaniard, even though his dad must be regarded as an honorary Swabian himself, having come to Southern Germany when he was just 15. Sami Khedira's father is from Tunisia, Dennis Aogo's is from Nigeria and Jerome Boateng's dad, as mentioned, is Ghanaian.
Finally, there is Cacau, born in Brazil to Brazilian parents. In fact, he was so Brazilian that when he came to Germany at the age of 18, it was not with a football team but with a samba troupe! (As a roadie, though, not as a dancer.)
However, that was a long, long time ago. These days, Cacau lives in a cosy Swabian town surrounded by vineyards and is so well-liked by his neighbours that he received six votes in the last mayoral election, even though he wasn't among the candidates.
"My whole mentality is German," he says - and his passport is, too. Cacau was naturalised in early 2009, after he passed a test for which he had to memorise the names of all the Chancellors of Germany. Which is why he was given the nickname "Helmut" by his then-teammate Ludovic Magnin. On Wednesday, against Ghana, he started the game - and his relatives in Brazil watched the match on television, wearing Germany shirts.
It would be taking things too far to suggest that this team is our version of the famously multi-cultural French side that supposedly helped unite a nation back in 1998. But a small-scale version? Yes, maybe, why not? Which is why it's perfect that this side did come through when the pressure was on, and did, as some observers noted without any hint of irony, display "proverbial German virtues".
Oh, I almost forgot to mention Landon Donovan, who's spent some time in Germany. His goal in injury time against Algeria means that we now meet England in the next round. Perfect.