Peter Goldstein

Peter Goldstein is a professor at Juniata College in Pennsylvania in the USA. He has been World Cup crazy since 1966. He will share his views about the past, present and future of this event.

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We're All Germans Now

    Back when Germany was a great football nation, they won lots of games, but very few friends. In fact, they won mostly enemies. They were the team you loved to hate; if you lived in England or the Netherlands, you might have had reasons of your own, but in fact the football was enough. They were dry and unimaginative, hard and ruthless. They were founded not on style but on organization, power, and efficiency. They made the trains run on time, but you didn't really want to climb aboard.

    To be truthful, though, they did have a few players who were fun to watch. One was Franz Beckenbauer, the first modern sweeper, a player of supreme elegance. Another was Pierre Littbarski, a quick, twisty midfielder who could dance through a keyhole. And then there was a rangy striker by the name of Jürgen Klinsmann, who when in motion (and he was always in motion) seemed to be flinging himself in all directions at once. Maybe he flung himself on the ground a bit too often, but he flung himself at the ball as well, enough to score some memorable World Cup goals and set up a few others.

    A few years ago, Germany was a team without a future, and no one wanted the head coaching job. So Klinsmann flung himself at that too--after which he flung himself onto a beach towel in Southern California, and set about producing a team in his own image. It just so happens that they're the host team at the 2006 World Cup, which means they had their coming-out party in Munich last night. And I don't care if you were watching in Turin or Buenos Aires, or even London or Amsterdam, you had to love it. How long have we waited for a team without the slightest regard for safety, for whom attacking is the same as breathing?

    Well, now we've got one, and their name is Germany. Urged on by the California Dreamer, the Germans attacked with the abandonment of a bunch of surfer dudes riding the Big One at Malibu. At left back Philipp Lahm poured forward, sending in audacious crosses, blasting home a spectacular shot. Tim Borowski (hey, wasn't there a guy named Ballack who said he could start?) sprayed passes, short and long, to all points of the compass. Bastian Schweinsteiger forced the pace on the left, and saw absolutely no problem moving to the right, from where he delivered a perfect pass for the second goal. Even Arne Friedrich, who looks nothing at all like an attacking right back, attacked like an attacking right back. Isn't that how we learned it on the playgrounds?

    Klinsmann has completely transformed German football. With combinations, rotations, constant movement, it's a whirlwind of delights. The two long-range blasts got all the headlines, but the third goal was a marvelous bit of teamwork. Lukas Podolski, playing to the left of center, came out from the area, bringing his marker with him; Schweinsteiger cut inside, taking the wingback; Lahm went up the vacated wing, took a pass from Borowski, and crossed to the far post, where Miroslav Klose finished at the second try. It helped that the cross was deflected a bit, but so what? That's the just reward for audaciousness and creativity.

    The majority of the German squad are relative newcomers, which figures--they're pliable types perfect for a young and imaginative coach. But even the veterans seem renewed. Four years ago Miroslav Klose tallied all his goals with his head, pristinely, as if he disdained the ground. Now he's driving them in on slides and rebounds. Four years ago Torsten Frings made his headlines by standing on the goal line and sticking his hand out. Now he's the second coming of Arie Haan. Young, old, or in between, you'll never hear the word "unimaginative" applied to this team.

    Of course, you probably won't hear the word "organized" either. Defense? They don't play it much. Against a relentlessly negative Costa Rica, who fielded a keeper, seven defenders, two semi-attackers, and a striker who appeared to be running in sand, Germany still gave up two goals. The first was a busted offside trap, a flat-out breakdown. The second might just possibly have been offside, but was worth it just for the laugh. Centerbacks Per Mertesacker and Christoph Metzelder spotted Walter Centeno free with the ball a few yards in front of them. So, naturally enough, they both went out to mark him, letting Paolo Wanchope in for the finish. A sure 3:1 became a nervous 3:2.

    But that's OK, because the Klinsmann motto is "More." Up two goals, it had never occurred to them to sit back. Only in the final ten minutes did they slow down, pass the ball around, keep possession--but they didn't seem very happy about it. Someone always wanted to pass forward, to switch sides, to play the new football of the new Germany. With only a few minutes left, any sensible team would have put the ball in the deep freeze. But it was an attacking throw-in that led to the foul that led to the free kick that led the ball onto Frings' right foot, and straight to the Hall of Fame.

    I don't think Germany are going to win the World Cup. Unless you're Brazil 1970, you don't win that way. But I'm not sure Klinsmann knows this. Right now he's probably figuring out ways to get Jens Lehmann into the attack, or drawing up plans for the 2-3-5. Maybe he's studying films of the Magnificent Magyars. Maybe he's just making stuff up.

    But let's face it--deep down, isn't that what we've always wanted? Isn't that the way we draw it up in the chat rooms, when we let our fancies free? Isn't that the way we win our own imaginary championships? Isn't that the football of our dreams?

    You wanted it, folks, you got it. For years we've scorned the Nationalmannschaft, but we're all Germans now. And you know something? It's not bad at all. We've got the best beer in the world. We've got a magnificent national anthem, melody by Franz Joseph Haydn. We've got Heidi Klum and Claudia Schiffer, and, for that matter, Angela Merkel. Best of all, we've got Jürgen Klinsmann, beach bum and madman. And in a month or so, if the football gods are as crazy as he is, we'll have ourselves a trophy. Here's to the Burschen, here's to our lads in white and black! Prost!



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