Posted by Leander Schaerlaeckens
PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa -- As Germany's team took turns shuffling across the bright red podium built on the already badly battered grass here Saturday night, it looked like to many of them the bronze medals that were hung around their necks were a mere consolation prize.
It shouldn't be.
Germany achieved something quite remarkable at this World Cup.
Die Mannschaft managed to crack a few smiles as they took positions behind the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa board for their official medal pictures but quickly scooted off, exchanged handshakes and a few hugs with support staff and walked off to thank the many Germans who had materialized for this game. Mostly, though, the look on their faces wondered about what might have been, rather than express delight at what had been achieved.
Sure, playing in the third-place game after reaching the semifinals isn't optimal, but if one takes a step back and puts Germany's tournament in perspective, one can't but realize that what they did was rather astonishing.
Less than a month before the tournament started, it became evident that Michael Ballack's ankle injury would keep him out of the tournament. Germany, it now realized, would be traveling to South Africa without its on-field general and a bunch of young, mostly unknown players.
Yet it fought valiantly, reinvented its calculated defense-first game and dazzled with its quick attacking combinations, knocking out more acclaimed England and Argentina sides, and falling to Spain only in the dying minutes. It achieved, by all logical interpretations, far more than it was supposed to.
And if even that doesn't bring any consolation, the realization that in four years this young German side will have matured into a frightening team should.