Nationalistic, soccer-related Stimmung in Berlin is serious right now. The World Cup here 4 years ago was seen as the breaking of a certain flag-taboo: whereas before it was questionable and mildly-shocking to wave a German flag at any time, during the World Cup everyone and their mother gladly smeared the black-red-yellow on their cheeks and hung huge flags from their balconies. It was undoubtedly a case of athletic sublimation of nationalistic/militaristic sentiment. The German flag now symbolizes die Mannschaft more than it does the country.
In my neighborhood of Neukölln, a largely immigrant community, flags are a-flying more so than in most other areas. My friend told me that, when Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon are not taking part in a football competition, the Arabic immigrants support the German national team more than many Teutonic Germans.
My friend and I overheard a funny story last night while waiting for our halloumi sandwiches at a Lebanese sandwich shop. The Arabic proprietors of the building next door were lowering a gigantic German flag from the roof, which stretched 4 stories down to just above street level. The man who seemed to be the owner of the flag said that someone tore the flag down a few days ago. He didn’t know who or why. My friend assumed it was some anti-fascist, left-wing Germans (many of whom also live in Neukölln), to whom the sight of a monstrously large German flag would be poisonous. The man said that now he has arranged security, who would guard the flag throughout the night. Such patriotic sentiment would be rare to find in most citizens of German-descent.
There’s a great piece in the Guardian by David Hytner about the new, young, “multi-kulti” German football generation who have impressed the world in their drubbing of Australia last week:
“We are aware that it’s something new to have German national players with Turkish, Ghanaian, Nigerian or Tunisian roots but for our generation, it’s very normal,” said Khedira, who is the DFB’s poster boy for the liberation generation. “We have some players called Khedira and some called Müller. We don’t know any differently.”
There remains a section of Germany’s support that struggles to come to terms with the multiculturalism, traditionalists who complain about some of the players not singing the national anthem. Ozil murmurs verses from the Koran when it plays. But Aogo says “people shouldn’t attach too much importance” to this. “I don’t sing the national anthem and I am still proud to play for Germany.”
Over and above the socio-political benefits, there are also those of a footballing nature. “Up front, we exude a bit of Latin or southern ease but defensively, we are incredibly disciplined, very German,” said Khedira. Ozil noted that “my technique and feeling for the ball is the Turkish side to my game and the always-give-your-all attitude is the German part” while Aogo said that “the mixture of African physical strength and European tactical awareness can be very good for the DFB”.
That last part is a bit funny. It seems that if nationalism, in a nu-politically-correct world, is given new life through football, then the same happens with cheap cultural stereotypes?
Panic in the streets of north Berlin as the HILARIOUS (not actually hilarious) news of Michael Ballack’s injury hit the presses. I was staying at a sublet in the Berlin neighborhood of Wedding at the time, an area known for a large immigrant population and relatively high crime rate (barely any crime at all, by American standards). It’s really a great place, and I feel some affinity
with it, as it was where I stayed during my first trip to Berlin. So I was relatively pleased to discover that the player responsible for the German captain’s exclusion from the World Cup was born and raised in Wedding, and declined an offer to play for the German national side in favor of … Group D opponents Ghana! None other than Portsmouth FC’s ruff-n-tumble midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng.
Now it’s always unfortunate when important players miss a tournament due to injury, but part of me was overjoyed not to have to watch Ballack’s constant whinging (presumedly picked up during his stay at Chelsea) and douchebag smirking, not to mention his own dangerous tackling. Talented footballer, but he really is one of the major pricks of the sport.
Needless to say, German fans are pretty crushed. Ballack was the veteran of the otherwise very young squad, and without him in midfield young guns like Sami Khedira (Ballack’s replacement), Mesut Özil and an in-form Bastien Schweinsteiger (recently transformed from winger to central midfielder at Bayern Munich) will have to take more leading roles.
Apart from the Ballack-shaped hole in midfield, Germany really don’t have a good striker. Klose and Podolski both became benchwarmers after losing form (only managing 5 Bundesliga goals between them last season), and Mario Gomez seemed a bit of a joke at the Euros. Perhaps Klose (last WC’s top scorer) plays better at an international level, but this past season has really been a shocker for him.
Captained now by the young (and excellent) right-back Phillip Lahm, Germany are looking less like their normal lineup of big Teutonic bruisers, and more like a younger, dynamic side with lots to prove. Look to the German midfield prospects to really shine if Germany are to get anywhere near the Final, despite a solid qualifying run.
I’ll let our new addition to the B&B editorial staff Nick Keys / kickknees, world renowned Aussie poet and square-artist, supply us with a review of the Australian side. All I know is that Cahill is feisty, Schwarzer magnificent, and they got cheated by Italy last time around. Here’s to a good showing with their second Dutch master. Players to watch: Ken Oath.
Kickknees says: It’s probably fair to say that there is an expectation disjuncture amongst Australian fans. On the one hand we have those fans (the world over) who hibernate between World Cups, emerging a few months before the tournament begins, suddenly kitted out in shirts and scarfs, ready to shout themselves hoarse, drunk on anticipation, stumbling and slurring their inept punditry. For these Australian fans expectations are high. On the back of an outstanding tournament in Germany 4 years ago, with the same players, another Dutch coach, it would seem that getting out of the group is the minimum requirement.
On the other hand, for the fans who actually follow the team, the fact that the starting XI is almost identical (injury permitting) to the team that lined up four years ago is a worrying sign, demonstrating an alarming generational gap in Australian football. Results-wise, the qualifying campaign was flawless, yet Pim Verbeek’s side has been consistently questioned for its lack of attacking quality. The logic of this perspective goes as so: if you can’t dominate teams in the attacking third in Asia, then you can’t make a significant impact at the World Cup. It’s a pretty compelling argument, and one that holds true (although almost no Australian fan will accept it) for their performance against Italy in the 2nd round at the 2006 World Cup. Sure, we got robbed by that filthy cheating prick Fabio Grosso (who incidentally went on to score the winner in the Semi-Final, and the winning penalty in the Final), but the truth is that the Socceroos never looked like scoring against Italy.
But it’s hardly Pim Verbeek’s fault that Australia doesn’t have any world-class strikers. Mark Viduka has retired, and even if he had played on, he’s not the force he was. So the burden falls to Nagoya Grampus striker and J-League top scorer Josh Kennedy. Standing at 6′ 4″ he’s a handy target man, and a crucial player to the structure of the team. He has scored important goals for Australia in his short international career, but he’s not the kind of striker that’s going to worry Nemanja Vidic or Per Mertesacker all that much. As gets pointed out ad naseum, Tim Cahill is the talisman of the team, and when the team needs a goal, he will provide it or the team will fall. Cahill’s problem this time around is that he’s no secret. Having said that, Cahill has talent that you can’t coach against: the timing of his runs and positioning in the box is as good as anyone in the world. Cahill is reportedly under an injury cloud (neck) for the first game, but it’s hard to see him not playing. Hapless Harry Kewell has a body held together by labratory-grown ligaments and muscle tissue, making him a form of artificial life. Add to this the artifice of the media-soap opera called Will Harry Be Fit Enough To Hobble To Bench? and you have a frankly boring distraction.
The form guide for Australia was totally thrown out the window in the final warm-up against the U.S.A. The previously obstinate defence was very open minded to all U.S. attacks, indeed Vince Grella was so atypically open minded that he sought to aid the U.S. attacks whereever possible. And although they only scored one goal, the Socceroos threatened the U.S. goal on many occasions. The U.S. thoroughly deserved their victory, but you can expect Verbeek’s Australian team a this World Cup to be very tight at the back, extremely fit, physical, highly organised and judiciously picking their moments to go forward.
My money is on Serbia and Germany to go through, but no team in the group is seriously intimidating in the way a Spain, Brazil, Argentina or (I hate to say it) England are. It’s not crazy to hope that a draw against Germany could set the Socceroos up for a win against Ghana and passage through to the 2nd round. But I’m just happy that the team is at the World Cup again. A 2nd Round match up against the USA would be ideal…
Serbia’s matches might be a bit dull, unless you like watching big defenders stopping players from scoring. Serbia’s first World Cup as an independent nation sees them heading to South Africa with one of the most formidable defenses of the competition. Manchester United’s Nemanja Vidic (“the only man who could slam a revolving door”), Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic, and promising young central defender Neven Subotic will apply massive hurt to any chicken-neck strikers who dare to saunter into their box. The Big Back Four will try to keep the goals to a minimum, but second- or third-string Wigan keeper Stojkovic might make up for their vigilance with some comedy gold in goal.
Zigic and Pantelic up front is not the worst striker combo imaginable, and service from Champions League winning Dejan Stankovic could supply the Serbians with some substanital firepower. The optimism of an entire newly-independent nation will surely boost the fighting spirit and self-confidence of this actually quite impressive team. Dark horses, for sure.
In 2006 Ghana, playing in their first ever World Cup, impressed the world, progressing to the quarter-finals before losing respectably to Brazil. Since then the Ghanaian team have remained an organized unit, playing strong and defensive football, with a modicum of flair in attack. Nothing too flashy here, but seemingly more reliable than other African sides of late.
Just like earlier this year in Angola, Ghana will be missing their star captain Michael Essien. Though without him they still managed to reach the final of that competition, where they were narrowly beaten by Egypt. Throughout that competition Ghana looked surprisingly strong, considering the extreme youth of the side they were forced to field due to injuries not only to Essien, but to several other key players (most of whom are fit and ready for South Africa). Football Afrocentrists like us here at B&B can only hope that this Ghanaian generation have maybe developed a NEW AFRICAN FOOTBALL STYLE that could finally see the immense talent at hand molded and shaped into a ruthless Winning Machine.
Captain Stephen Appiah as well as Sulley Muntari (another Champions League winner) will try to make up for Essien’s absence in midfield. Young Udinese midfielder Kwadwo Asamoah could be the Black Stars’ most exciting prospect, capable of artful dribbles and sneaky passing. Asamoah Gyan (scorer of the first ever Ghanaian goal in the World Cup, which was also the fastest goal in World Cup history) is fresh from a great season at Rennes and could continue his good form with the help of good service from the Ghanaian mids.
Also exciting will be the fiery head-2-head sibling-struggle of Ballack-knacker Kevin-Prince Boateng against brother Jerome (presumably the more serene, peaceable Boateng). Look to German media for some first-class whining if Ghana go through at the expense of Germany.
This is actually a very open group. It remains to be seen if Germany can cope Ballack-less. If they lose their first game (against Australia) qualification will be there for anyone to snatch.