Thursday, June 26, 2008

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même Allemagne; Dempsey dies

Euro 2008.
EURO 2008 SF: Germany 3-2 Turkey, Basel
Boral 22', Schweinsteiger 27', Klose 79', Semturk 86', Lahm 90'

"They can play games like this, when maybe they are not the best team, and still win. That is why they are so good."

Fatih Terim, Turkey's coach, could have uttered these words tonight, but in fact it was Bruce Arena after Germany had edged the States 1-0 in Ulsan in the 2002 World Cup quarter-final.

Only two years ago, we were talking about how long, or rather short, Germany would last at home in the World Cup. Jurgen Klinsmann's team had been the most inept German 'elftal' (eleven) in living memory in the run-up to the 2006 tournament, but then surprised the doubters by reaching the semi-final.

Now the Mannschaft have reached the EURO 2008 final with a 3-2 win over an arguably better team, nodding heads are attributing their triumph to simply being German, a synonym for depressingly successful.

A Protestant work ethic (Colombia's Achilles Heel), physical force and endeavour (Portugal's downfall), mental toughness (the Dutch weakness), self-belief (count out the Spaniards), efficient organisation (bye-bye England) and a resolve to keep fighting until the end (Au revoir Les Bleus) in an 'all for one, one for all' spirit of teamwork have been in the German genes for so long, their roll of honour comes as no surprise:

SEVEN World Cup finals (won three of them) and SIX European championship finals (won three of them so far) is an amazing record confirmed by Euro 2008.

England have, in comparison, reached one final ever...

In 1994 and 1998, Germany exited the World Cup before the semi-final stage. A colourless performance at Euro 2000 had everyone expecting them to collapse in the 2002 World Cup; instead they reached the final.

Then another weak German eleven in Euro 2004 boded ill for the following World Cup, yet Germany finished third. Even in eras of weakness, they bounce back strongly.

But wait a minute, didn't Croatia beat them 2-1 in this tournament? Did not the Germans look clearly second best that night, their status as early favourites following their victory over the Poles suddenly diluted?

A week is a long time in football; Croatia have now been eliminated, Germany have beaten their conquerors, Turkey, and have reached yet another final, prolonging an extraordinary record.

"They always put up a good show," a drunken Finn opined to me about the Germans, slumped on a Swedish park bench in Norrköpping at Euro '92. He was not wrong.

Despite all the close scrapes and near misses of outrageous fortune, 'Germany are always there' is the shrugged conclusion we must draw once more, however short memories are in football.

Incidentally, thank God tonight's game was in Basel and not Vienna.

The Austrian capital witnessed a thunderstorm so strong it forced the evacuation of the central FanZone fifteen minutes before the end of the game.

Two people were trampled in the rush to escape the tempest, requiring hospital treatment, while those who did make it to nearby bars would not have seen Miroslav Klose's strike, as the Austrian TV channel showing the game, ORF1, lost its signal for eight minutes due to the inclement weather.

German TV suffered a similar break in transmission, thanks to a thunderstorm near Basel knocking out the picture relay.

Vienna's central FanZone, the largest at EURO 2008, has played host to crowds of up to 100,000 people on match nights.

* * *

Charlie Dempsey, the Scots-born New Zealander who was President of the Oceania Football Confederation for an amazing 36 years, has died aged 87.

Dempsey famously hit the world's headlines when he abstained in 2000 from voting for the destination of the 2006 World Cup, thereby handing the tournament to Germany instead of its expected hosts, South Africa.

The world's cameras were suddenly focused on a rather doddery old Scot who had decided not to vote as a member of FIFA's 24-strong executive committee on the most important sporting tournament in the world. Dempsey claimed others had attempted to bribe him and that he had no wish to make enemies by voting.

As it happened, Germany ran a hugely successful World Cup in 2006 and South Africa got four more years to prepare to host it, winning the vote for 2010 unopposed.

Dempsey rather should be remembered for promoting football in a country obsessed with another sport (rugby union) and getting Oceania to join FIFA as a full member confederation in 1996.

Soon after the World Cup vote in 2000, Dempsey quit as President, dismayed at the media assault on him and his family on account of his perceived cowardice.

Oceania is still fighting for a permanent place in the World Cup Finals, after New Zealand's poor performance at the 2005 Confederations Cup persuaded FIFA President Sepp Blatter to change his mind about awarding it an automatic qualification slot, precipitating Australia's unprecedented move to the Asian Football Confederation in 2006.

Dempsey's proudest achievement was seeing his beloved New Zealand compete in the 1982 World Cup Finals in Spain.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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