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Gary Lineker, the legendary English striker turned mediocre British broadcaster once joked, "Football is a simple game: 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes, and at the end, the Germans win." He said this when Germany had been decades-long masters of a grind-you-down brand of football that was relentlessly consistent. Including 2010, the Germans have advanced to the semifinals six times in the past eight World Cups. But since 2006 they have radically recast themselves as purveyors of an optimistic brand of football relying on movement, intelligence and precision that is impossible not to admire. Even more remarkable: In 2010 their success has been achieved despite crippling injuries to their midfield and defense, and the haunting suicide of their first-choice goalkeeper. As an Englishman, it has been hard to admit at times that the Germans are a marvel. Yet, I have enjoyed every second of the below.
The wisdom of experience
For all that has been written about the German youth revolution (and I will add to that below), the veteran striker Miroslav Klose has been a scintillating revelation. After scoring only three goals for Bayern Munich, he has banged in four in four World Cup games. Jogi Low was derided in some quarters for selecting him in the first place. Many suggested Klose was too old, unfit and unmotivated to make a difference. But dusted off for South Africa, with a couple of magical motivational words from Don Jogi, and he has turned into the equivalent of the German Greased Lightning. Enjoy Klose, a remarkable striker who makes the hard things -- finding space in the crowded terrain of the penalty area -- appear effortless.
One consistent elimination round presence has grown on me. Manager Jogi Low's baby-blue cashmere sweater -- which is not a boy-band T-shirt as I incorrectly reported earlier -- has now been dubbed "Germany's miraculous sweater" by Bild, which claimed even the über-rational Low believes it may harbor magic power. "I am not really superstitious but (deputy coach) Hansi Flick and others basically forced me to put it back on -- it gave us four goals at each of the matches," he told reporters. A take on footballing fate which ranks up there with former French manager and King of Crazy Raymond Domenech, who once claimed, "I am not superstitious; it brings bad luck."
Sadly, I have yet to read a report on why Low and Flick, two fully grown men, insist on wearing identical garb, as though they were two overdeveloped twin toddlers. And yet they look awfully cute and wholesome on the homepage of upscale designer Strenesse. Bild reported that true German fans have journeyed deep into enemy territory, invading the neighboring Netherlands to grab hold of the $250 item in a blue named "Jogi," according to the manufacturers, who also make it clear that "those willing to sacrifice authenticity for comfort can purchase cotton or mixed-blend look-alikes."
The backing of a prophetic cephalopod
Spare a thought for poor Paul, the prognosticating German octopus, who has correctly predicted the results of every one of Germany's games thus far, becoming one of the unlikeliest media darlings of the tournament in the process. The eight-legged oracle has chosen Germany in every elimination round game ... until now. The cream of the world's media, holding their collective breath, swarmed Paul's tank as he tentatively extended a tentacle to select a winner of the Spain-Germany semifinal clash -- picking Spain. A decision so shocking to some in the German media that they futilely tried to cover it up.
Now join me, if you can, in imagining the fear that must have gripped Paul's octopus-mind at this delicate moment. And before you jump in and tell me that evolutionarily humans and octopi diverged roughly 700 million years ago, know that I spent a very sleepless Tuesday night engrossed in a Consciousness and Cognition Journal essay entitled "Cephalopod Consciousness: Behavioral Evidence." To cut a long story short, octopi have sizeable brains. What a decision for Paul: to lie, pick Germany, and be forever ridiculed as an octopus who merely thinks he can tell the future. Or to tell the truth, pick the enemy and demoralize those you love. Paul, rest easy. Come Thursday evening, you will be on display at a sushi bar. But you still have your integrity.
A true appreciation of the game at the highest levels
Joe Biden, you are our vice president. You are witnessing history: The first World Cup game to be played on the African continent. Your hosts score a scorching goal, making the syllables Siphiwe Tshabalala a household name. How do you look? Earplugs in place, blanket on lap, staring off into space like a great uncle at a baby-naming while barely aware why you are there and wondering what day is Meatloaf Night back at the retirement community. Compare and contrast to German chancellor Angela Merkel, who squirmed in ecstasy after every German quarterfinal goal. Until we have a leader who loves the game like that, the semis may be a stretch, America.
Jurgen Klinsmann, the former star player and manager of Germany's 2006 World Cup team, dazzled in studio at this World Cup as he calmly yet confidently predicted at halftime that Germany would comprehensively dismantle Argentina in the second 45 minutes. Online, he detailed the methodological national blueprint that has spawned such talents as Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller on BBC.com. It makes for fascinating reading from both an English and an American perspective.
Can this strategy be modified for the U.S.? The appointment of the iconic Claudio Reyna as youth technical director bodes well. The strategy he develops for "Zone 1," the term for 6- to 12-year-olds, over the next 12 months will be illuminating. But relax, America. The cavalry may already be on its way. Cristiano Ronaldo has just tweeted news he has fathered a baby boy. His Li'l Penny, so to speak. Rumor has it the mother is reputed to be an American, which augurs well for the U.S. team come 2030. If he is anything like his dad, we may be able to draw on the services of a highly coveted star who looks sensational oiled up in a pair of undies on the front cover of Vanity Fair ahead of the tournament, but then fails to deliver big time.