Matthew Monk

Matthew Monk is a school teacher from the UK who has the World Cup as one of his greatest passions. He will share his views about the past, present and future of this event.

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The welcome return of the Kaisers

    It has been a long 12 years for Germany. The last time this most complete and competitive European team reached the World Cup Final 'Germany' did not even exist. Italia 90 was the swansong of the most successful football team in the history of this great tournament - West Germany - and who then thought that the new, unified German team would not go on to dominate just as the old team had since 1954?

    The superstars that made up all those old West German teams still roll of the tongue as if they had only played yesterday: Walter, Rahn, Seeler, Maier, Overath, Vogts, Beckenbauer, Netzer, Müller, Kaltz, Breitner, Rummenigge, Schuster, Littbarski, Matthäus, Brehme, Kohler, Möller, Klinsmann. Few countries have ever produced five players of this quality in their entire histories - West Germany did all this and so much more in little more than a generation. Individually perhaps only Beckenbauer and Müller would find their way into an All Time World XI, but when these men strode out onto the field in West German shirts they took on a different nature, they became invincible, unstoppable, and the envy of the whole planet.

    Many people look to the period of Pelé between 1958 and 1970 as football's golden age, when Brasil won three tournaments and played some amazing football. They won three world titles and created a legend that still dogs every subsequent Brazilian team. They were the ultimate manifestation for many. Europe had nothing to compare - or did it?

    Four years after Carlos Alberto scored his wonder goal in the Azteca Europe came back. Many at the time thought that it was Cruijff and Dutch Total Football that was going to dominate the next period of football history, but instead it was the enhanced Total Football of Beckenbauer that took over. This team had been growing for eight years, and allowing for a small blip in 1978, it ruled world football for a full 16 years.

    The record of West Germany in the World Cup from 1966 to 1990 is frightening: 1966 - Runner's Up; 1970 - third; 1974 - Champions; 1978 - fifth; 1982 - Runner's Up; 1986 - Runner's Up; 1990 - Champions. And if we go back another three tournaments, we find a record that is just as good, and reads: 1962 - quarter finalists; 1958 - third; 1954 - Champions. No nation - not even Brasil - has been this good, this competitive, this consistent and this dominant. No nation even comes close. Forget the way that the team played from time to time - results count not performances.

    Need more proof? Well, West Germany dominated the European Championship as well: 1972 - Champions; 1976 - Runner's Up; 1980 - Champions; 1988 - semi finalists. Only in 1984 did they fail, when Spain beat them to the semi finals in France. It was an awesome, second-to-none record that will probably remain unsurpassed for as long as football is played. And do not think for a minute that West Germany dominated in an era when they were the only good team around - they saw off Puskas and the Magical Magyars, Bobby Moore's England, Cruijff's Holland and Maradona's Argentina. In fact the only team they not defeat was Brasil, and that was only because they have so far been kept apart at the World Cup.

    So how on earth did the Unified Germany fail so badly after 1990? Well first, lets put this in some perspective. Since 1990, Germany have finished Runner's Up and Champions in the European Championship, and have twice reached the World Cup quarter finals. Only from a German standpoint could that be considered failure! In fact, it is only since 1998 that German football has appeared in the doldrums. For the first time ever German football did not appear to have a new generation to take over from the previous team. Matthaüs was still needed, as were Häßler, Kohler, Möller and Klinsmann. It was this team that seemed to have killed off the German style of football - especially the way it was pushed so close by Mexico before finally capitulating to Croatia. But even this ancient side had made the quarter final.

    No, the aura of invincibility that surrounded German football 'died' at the hands of the English - first at Euro 2000, and then last September in Munich. If England - the team that more than any other could not cope with Germany - could now beat them, then anyone could. Worse still, these were big games, televised around the globe, and hyped to extremes by a needy English media. It seemed that Germany could not fall any further. That was it surely, game over. Not by half.

    England's 5:1 victory was a fluke result, plain and simple. England won deservedly, but no team has ever been four goals better than Germany, least alone their biggest rivals. And what everyone forgets about that game is that it came at a point where Germany were dominating the qualification group.

    Germany had come to Wembley to play in the famous old stadium's final match, and won at a canter. England had no ideas how to break them down, and though it was only a deflected Didi Hamann goal that won the game, no one could deny that Germany deserved to win. In fact, by the time of the game in Munich, England were desperate for a win. Germany could have happily settled for a draw, given that they seemed in such control of the group at that point. And, even with their confidence shattered by England, they could still have won the group with a win over Finland in Gelsenkirchen in the final match. Of course, everyone knows what happened next - England grabbed a late point following a Beckham free kick, while Germany hit every part of the Finnish goal except the important part - the net.

    So did Germany panic? Of course not. Rudi Völler simply got on with the job, and very quietly and with the minimum of fuss won the play-off against the Ukraine. The input of Völler cannot be underestimated. Under both Erich Ribbeck and Christoph Daum, Germany may have still been capable of good wins - as evidenced by the Wembley victory - but for every Deisler, there was still a Bierhoff hanging around. Germany still looked old, and possibly even there for the taking. Under Völler, Germany have reached another - a record seventh - final. How has he done it?

    Völler has had some terrible luck. His best defender, Markus Babbel, 'retired' then developed a life threatening illness before he could be tempted back. Deisler, Scholl, then Nowotny became injured in the final few weeks before the tournament. He was left with an untested, young squad. Even including the truly world-class Oliver Kahn, the most experience Völler could call upon was Christian Ziege and Oliver Bierhoff - both with over 60 caps, but both experiencing hard times with Tottenham and Monaco.

    But as seems so usual for Germany, all this has turned out to be almost the best possible situation. Völler had to throw in the likes of Torsten Frings, Bernd Schneider, Christoph Metzelder and Miroslav Klose much earlier than he would normally have done. Not only does he now have the basis of team to take to Euro 2004 and Germany's very own World Cup in four years time, Völler now has a real shot at winning the World Cup, and can become only the third man - and second German - to win the fabled trophy as player and coach. I do not care if Germany have 'only beaten' Paraguay, the USA and Korea - Italy, Spain and Portugal could not manage that, and in the end you can only beat the teams put in front of you. This German team deserves much, much more credit for what it has accomplished.

    So far it has scored 14 goals - only Brasil have scored more. Sure, eight of those goals were against Saudi Arabia, but when you think of the heat many of these games have been played in, and the organised, combative defences they have faced, it is still an excellent total. Much more impressive has been Germany's own defence. So far, only Robbie Keane has managed to breach this wall, and apart from the second half against Ireland and a few scary moments against the Americans, nothing else has looked likely. Khan has become universally recognised as the best goalkeeper in the world, and even this much-fabled Brazilian attack will wonder just how they can beat him.

    But to listen to many commentators it would seem that only Khan has played well. What rubbish! Michael Ballack has been the best midfielder in the competition so far, and no one has scored more vital goals. In attack, Klose has been as lethal as anyone, and I challenge you to find a more fearsome header of the ball in world football today. Add the confidence of Metzelder, the smooth touch of Schneider and the strength of Didi Hamann, and you have six players that would grace any side at this championship. Germany are in the final on merit, and by virtue of their fine football. They are not Holland of 1974, or Brasil of 1982, but unlike those teams they are born winners, and I for one would be delighted to see Germany pick up their fourth Fußball-Weltmeisterschaft on Sunday.

    As I write this, the BBC are showing the famous 1982 semi final against France on their fabulous interactive service. We all know the sickening Toni Schumacher foul on Patrick Battiston, but this game deserves to be remembered for the dogged way a similarly underrated German side came through to defeat the attacking favourites just as much. German footballers never give up, they fight to the end, and they win. Sorry Brasil - or Turkey - this World Cup is going back to Germany. And there is at least one Englishman who will be very happy.

Gekommen auf Deutschland.



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