Since politics and history is going to be a large part of this article, then this section will be on post-reunification German football only.
Following a terrible showing in Euro 2004, German hired Jürgen Klinsmann to coach the national team. Klinsmann lived in the US, did not have a traditional German approach to the job, but he did score 40 goals in 82 games playing for Germany, and Germany need to try something new. Klinsmann wanted to play attacking and flowing football, and with a significant generational change in the team, then he could push through his vision.
Germany was also hosting the World Cup in 2006, and were looking to become the World Champions for the 4th time. Germany lost in the semi-final, but the team was the darling of the tournament, and Germany was a great host. What might not have been won on the pitch was won in self-confidence. Following the Second World War, Germans had gotten used to national symbolism and patriotism was not something to show, but after the 2006 World Cup, the Germans could absolutely feel proud. Even if they failed to win the tournament (losing in extra-time to the future champions, Italy, in the semi-final), then the first time in generations you could see the German flag all over the country.
Germany has always played a hard and physical game. Often (during the days of West Germany) defensive and known for bending the rules to their advantage. The apex of West German unsportsmanship was seen in 1982 in the World Cup, where they in the final group game were through with a win, but if only by 1 or 2 goals, then Austria (who they played against) would also be through. Germany scored early in the game, and then neither side played much football for 80 minutes, but instead merely passed the ball around.
However, with Klinsman as coach, the game changed. Massive investments in youth academies in all professional clubs, and a national coordination of this, ensured the continued production of German talent for the national team. And combined German football was forever changed. Klinsmann, however, was only the coach for the preparation to and the World Cup in 2006. After that his assistant Joachim Löw took over, and he is still the national coach today.
Germany play 4-2-3-1 and push a lot of players forward in attack. And today they play a hard, but fair game. They are the most winning European national team (West Germany and unified Germany combined). While they lost to Denmark in the Euro 1992 final, they won in 1996 as the first major post-reunification trophy. The World Cup would elude Germany for some time since West Germany winning in 1990, but finally in 2014 the Klinsmann-Löw style proved successful.
This means Germany are the defending champions. And as one of the favourites, then they might be the first team to win back-to-back World Cups. But the champion’s curse seems to have already struck. More on that in the final section of the article.
Where do the Germans play?
German league football is dominated by Bayern Munich. They have won the last 6 national championships, and have the record for most wins with 28 (no other team has reached even 10). Actually, they do not just have the record for most cup in the league, but for all 4 major German trophies. And in Europe they have won 5 Champions Leagues (including European Cups), the 1996 UEFA Cup, and the 1967 Cup Winners Cup.
This is the powerhouse of German football, and it is normal for half the starting-11 of the German football national team to be playing in Bayern. And that is still the case, as 5 of the 11 starters against Mexico plays in Bayern, out of their 7 German players at the World Cup. Another starter used to play in Bayern, one who came in against Mexico played there was well, and another player in the squad is transferring to Bayern this summer.
Besides Bayern, 8 German clubs each have a single player in the squad. Only 2 of these started against Mexico. This fits a model where if a player is good enough to start for Germany, then they usually play in Bayern or outside of Germany. And after this World Cup, then the two (Werner and Plattenhardt) likely both do this as well.
The remaining 8 play for PSG 2 (France), Chelsea 1 (England), Arsenal 1 (England), Manchester City 1 (England), Real Madrid 1 (Spain), Barcelona 1 (Spain), and Juventus 1 (Italy).
Basically German players play in Germany for non-Bayern teams and sit on the bench, or they play for a team vying for national and European trophies. Both Champions League finalists had a German player in their squad. However, Emre Can was injured at the time, which meant he missed both the final and the World Cup. However, under normal circumstances he would have been in a German World Cup squad.
Political influence and national narrative
Germany is the centre of modern European politics. Not just as the largest member state in the EU, but also for an interwar period marred by communist and fascist attempts at revolution, which finally culminated in Germany becoming national-socialist.
Following the Anschluss of Austria in 1938, the Austrian and German football team where also united into one. Austria got one final match as independent in which they were “supposed” to draw against Germany, but Austria ended up winning it to great dismay of the Nazi hierarchy. Anschluss had happened a few months before the 1938 World Cup, and Austria was one of the favourites, since they had been an early pioneer of professional football. Both Germany and Austria had qualified, but Austria had to withdraw, and the united German-Austrian team was ordered to play with half-half of Germans and Austrians. However, with few month to prepare it was impossible to create a proper team, and many Austrians either refused to play for or reluctantly played for Nazi Germany. Nazi Germany was knocked out in the first round, which was seen as an insult to the “aryan masterrace”.
Following the war Austria gained independence again, but Germany was also divided into West Germany for the three allied occupied sectors and East Germany. No German team was allowed to play in the 1950 World Cup, as the country was still barred from most international sporting events until and including that year. When they rejoined, then West Germany made it to the 1954 World Cup, and won the tournament.
Their next World Cup trophy was won in 1974, this was in the early part of the golden years if West German football. From 1966 to 1990 West Germany was in 8 major tournament finals, and they won 2 World Cup and 2 European Championships. Following Reunification then Germany have been less successful, but something special happened in the World Cup 1974.
June 22. West Germany versus East Germany. The only time in history the divided parts of Germany faced each other. And this was even in a World Cup hosted by Western Germany. 60000 spectators watched as East Germany won 1-0 in Hamburg. But West Germany won the whole tournament, and East Germany only ever qualified for that World Cup, and never for the European Championship.
This section could go on forever if we include the many rivalries. Therefore we will save those for the articles of the rivals.
Group and expectations
Germany shockingly lost 1-0 to Mexico in their first group game. Well, somewhat shockingly. Most recognised before the tournament that Mexico was the second best team in the group, but Germany is a favourite to win, and Mexico is still a team expected to be knocked out in the round of 16.
In the second game Germany face the giant killing Swedes. If the Germans cannot even score against Mexico, then how will they against the Swedish defensive organisation? Something need to change for Germany if they want to go through.
In their final game they face the Republic of (South) Korea. Germany will have to win this game to be certain to go through no matter what, but Korea might already be out, or have a chance of going through with a win. So this could be a very interesting game. But Germany really should win… But Germany really should also win the other two games, so if they cannot beat Sweden, then we might see a complete German meltdown.
Before the tournament it was obvious that Germany would go through to the round of 16. Now? Who knows… If Sweden get a point against Germany, then Germany have to beat ROK, and hope for Mexico beat Sweden with a significant margin. Then Germany might go through based on goal-score, but Mexico would have likely beaten ROK in the second round, and then will already be through.
So simply put. Germany have to beat Sweden and ROK to go through. And unless ROK create an upset against Mexico, then it will Sweden they have to knock out. So for any European wanting to see as many European sides as possible go through, then the most important thing is that ROK gets at least a point against Mexico, and probably that Germany beat Sweden. Then both can be through with a win in the 3 group game. But that is highly unlikely.