More to Germany than meets the eye
By MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency
CAPE TOWN -- From Munich to Mannheim, they are calling it The Magic of Die Mannschaft jersey.
Whatever special silk they have woven into those German national team uniforms, it seems to have cast a spell on the players who pull them on, whether they be young or old, green or experienced, on the upside or downside of their respective careers.
Why else would Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski, two struggling players who combined for just five goals for their club teams this past season, suddenly have six at World Cup 2010?
Why else would kids such as Mezut Ozil, Sami Khedira and Thomas Mueller, all members of Germany's championship under-21 2009 Euro team, amazingly be able to thrive under the pressure of the World Cup spotlight, outperforming more established stars such as Wayne Rooney and Lionel Messi in head-to-head matches?
And why else would midfielder Bastien Schweinsteiger, who was invisible in Bayern Munich's 2-0 loss to Inter Milan in the Champions League final back in May, suddenly transform into one of the more dominant players in this World Cup?
On the surface, it must be the jersey. And the mindset that goes with it. Indeed, many in the British press are claiming that the difference between Germany and England, in terms of national team success, is centred on priorities.
The Germans, they claim, put country before club. The English, on the other hand, often put club before country. Judging by the results at recent World Cups, there may be some validity to those arguments.
Back in 2002, for example, an ordinary German team somehow grinded its way to the final, where it was defeated by a significantly more talented Brazilian side. Time and again, the Germans were outplayed and outclassed in the knockout round en route to the championship game, yet somehow seemed to will their way to victory.
But when examining its path to the semifinal of South Africa 2010, the reason for Germany's success cuts much deeper than just the shirts on their backs or the philosophy between their ears.
No, in this case, many of the kudos must go to one man -- manager Joachim Loew.
Loew came into this tournament without a contract extension. That's going to be a costly turn of events for the governing body of the German national team. Because with each highlight-reel goal, with each huge win, with each crushing of a world power such as England and Argentina, Loew's price goes up.
And as well it should.
It is Loew who maintained confidence in Klose and Podolski when no one else did. It is Loew who, as the successor to popular manager Jurgen Klinsmann, took Klinsmann's game plan of more creative-minded soccer and expanded it.
And it was Loew who, after Germany had suffered a 1-0 loss to Spain at the final of Euro 2008, sat down with the brass and decided a new younger direction needed to be taken.
"After the Spain game, we discussed how we would proceed in the future," Loew said. "We knew we had good players who had made us competitive but we'd never won anything with them.
"At that point, we decided to go younger."
Thus far, it has paid off. The Germans lead the tournament in scoring, putting 13 balls into the net in just five games. Four of those have come off the boot of Mueller, who is just 20 years old.
In the process, they have blown away the English and Argentines by a combined score of 8-1 in their past two outings. The real litmus test will come Wednesday in Durban, when the Germans will face almost the same Spanish side that beat them for the title at Euro 2008. Mueller is suspended after accruing yellow cards in the tournament, but Loew says the team has plenty of players that can step in to get the job done.
Given the magic that Loew has been casting over his team at this tournament, you have to believe him, no matter what jerseys his team opts to wear.