You know you shouldn’t do it. You know your heart will be broken. Your beloved is unsteady, fickle, transient. He’s bound to let you down. When he does, you’ll be crushed. And your friends will either be equally crushed by the same unreliable cad – or they’ll mock you for being such a trite stereotype. Now you feel bereft and stupid. Worse, they’re right … unless reversing genders is enough to undo the stereotype?
This is what happens when you fall for a soccer team. Similar heartbreak transpired in 2006 after Germany’s semifinal loss to eventual world champion Italy. But in 2006, we (that is, my family and I) were buoyed by the spirit of the whole German nation celebrating a World Cup in their collective backyard. Games were being played a few miles from our apartment. Strangers were smiling foolishly at strangers, and that in too-cool, too-busy, too-insular Berlin! We also had the lovely distraction of Jürgen Klinsmann as coach.
This year, the tournament is on a distant (though very deserving) continent. German flags still fly from people’s cars and dangle from balconies. But with last night’s 1-0 loss to Spain, the “air is out” of it, as they say here. I picture this as our hearts hanging empty, like deflated balloons, though I supposed only a foreigner would come up with this image. Walhalla (where we watched the game) was the Saloon of Despond; the Spanish team was an Armada that appeared seemingly out of nowhere. Today my husband decreed it was time to take the German flags off the back of the kids’ bikes. (All three of us – Bear, Tiger, and I – screeched NO, it is not time!)
So just what happened yesterday? Well, Spain delivered its best game of the tournament. They showed the Germans how a passing game is really done. The German’s version of passing and counter-attacking got no traction until the Spanish side scored on a set piece with just 15 minutes to go. Carlos Puyol was utterly undefended by a team known for decades as punctilious, whatever its other faults. No one marked up. Puyol headed it into the net. Germany rallied, but they were too late. Given the number of chances Spain had woven out of its passing game, the German defense actually did just fine with last-minute saves – except for that one fatal moment.
To quote the excellent “Mike’s Best Guess” at Open Salon:
Die Mannschaft were finally eliminated because they forgot to be, well, German during decisive moment of Wednesday’s semifinal against Spain.
That decisive moment came in the 73rd minute when Carles “Rambo” Puyol barreled unmarked through the box like a crazed Spanish kamikaze fighter and headed the winning goal past the towering German Luftwaffe.
It was shocking. It was the little, skillful, artistic Spaniards beating the Germans by being better at, well, being German. …
… Instead of scoring from open play (the way they probably would have preferred), the Spaniards out-Germaned the Germans by converting on a header by a center back from a corner kick — and by grinding out a result despite often failing to play beautiful soccer.
To put it more bluntly, the Spanish were well worth their win, but the goal probably should have never happened. Rambo Puyol, for all his grit and determination, is 5-foot-10: not short for a soccer player by any means, but not tall by German standards. But even with their sizable height advantage, the Germans failed to do what they’ve done better than anyone for decades: Mark up. Indeed, if Puyol hadn’t gotten a head to the cross, his partner in crime, the fantastically facial-haired central defender Gerard Piqué, would have.
(More here – and I agree with all but the Blitzkrieg analogy **shudder**)
Piqué, by the way, amuses Mike with his facial hair, which my son the Tiger would surely call “nifty whiskers.” Personally, I think Piqué has got some hedgehog ancestry, judging from his bristly brace of head-hair.
(This photo was shamelessly swiped from here to illustrate Piqué’s hedgehog hair and not his injuries. The Germany-Spain match was one of the least foul that I’ve seen.)
O, for another 30 minutes plus penalties! That might have won the game for Germany. We certainly weren’t going to win it through standard means. Spain were (gulp) better. Spain won verdient.
But the Spanish virtues are only half the tale. On the German side, I think two factors intensely demoralized “our Jungs” and kept them from unfurling their creativity, their passing game, and their coolly hot counterattacks:
1) The utterly unearned yellow card for a “handball” that was actually Lionel Messi’s work in the previous match against Argentina. Thomas Müller paid for Messi’s sins in a game marked by shitty officiating. Müller had to sit the game out last night, with paralysis on the right side the logical result. But Spain also managed to largely shut down Özil and Podolski as well, freezing up our entire offensive midfield.
2) The embarrassing and divisive debate in the German press on who will lead the team as captain after the World Cup. Will it be the injured star midfielder Michael Ballack, whose absence must sting terribly? (He’s old enough that this would have been his World Cup.) Or will it be the calm, even-tempered, modest defender Philip Lahm, whose leadership has been exemplary? I favor Lahm, myself, not least because I agree with my friend who thinks the team plays better without its anointed star. But allowing this debate to seep into the tabloids was just foolish. It can’t have helped the number one asset of the team, its esprit de corps. Worse yet, the gossip about the captain’s position may well have split the team. Perhaps its apearance in the boulevard press signals a disintegration within the team, in which case the leaks to the press are only a symptom of a deeper problem. At any rate, a team that can’t talk to each other probably isn’t gonna pass to each other, either.
Oh, my lovely young men, too soon departed! Why, oh why, did I let me self fall? Why so besotted, when we never had a chance?
So today I mope. I eat Nutella on Ritz crackers. I sneak licorice snails while the kids aren’t looking. I nurse my bruised feelings. I’ll be my sober self again soon. Really, I will. For now, I’m still pining for the Weltmeister title. Looks like I’ll have to settle for Waldmeister jello. With vanilla sauce. Lucky me, I’ve got some in the fridge. It’s just not quite solidified. Much like the German team.