As a neutral football fan living in Germany, the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia has been an absolute delight so far. Without any emotional investment in any of the 32 teams participating, watching Germany's humiliating capitulation amidst passionate Bavarians has been a rather interesting experience to put it mildly.
From driving to work past houses and cars decorated with the German flag three weeks ago to the shocking defeats at the hands of Mexico and South Korea, the mood in Germany has flipped on its head.
A week before Die Mannschaft stepped onto the pitch against Mexico in Russia, an uncharacteristic defeat to neighbours – Austria sent an early warning to the thousands of German fans in pubs across the country. One such pub was the not-so-quaint Finnegan's in the heart of Nuremberg where the Austria game was telecast live with about 50 Germans expecting a thrashing for Austria.
To the unspoken delight of the pub owner, the announcement of free beer for every German goal scored wasn't a frequent occurrence against Austria or at the World Cup itself. But don't let this blur the fact that Germans across the country expected their side to roll over every team on their way to their title defence. It'd take a brave man to tell anyone what was to transpire as the flags, chants and songs grew louder each day the world cup drew closer.
Arrogance at the airport
The U-Bahn Metro in Nuremberg was a sight to behold as almost every football fan in the city made their way to the old airport which was converted into a fan-park for public viewing. Such was the arrogance of the German fans that replica shirts with a 5th star above the crest signifying a 5th World Cup was sold outside the old airport.
One of my German colleagues summed up the mood before the game saying, "We don't need to ask our grandfathers how was it like to win the World Cup. We did it 4 years ago and in 4 weeks we'll do it again" before chanting Alle Deutschland spilling his beer over his white shoes with the German flag painted on the sides.
The story of the game was a different story altogether. With each Mexican counter-attack, German belief in Die Mannschaft grew thinner. Loud groans of schiesser and other expletives began to drown out the previous chants of Alle Deutschland. As Hirving Lozano danced his way past Mesut Ozil in the German box and beat Manuel Neuer at his near post, 500 Germans groaned as the flaws of their side were finally exploited. Many innocent schnitzels and beer mugs were hurled onto the tarmac of the Nuremberg airport in disgust.
As Julian Brandt smashed his left-footed volley against the outside of the post, a lot of angry Germans threw in the towel choosing to avoid traffic instead of staying back to watch an improbable German comeback. In their defence, 300 angry Germans moved towards the three exit gates with more purpose than Boateng and Hummels trying to make it back to their position.
The Sweden game looked like a cakewalk for Germans only a week ago. However, such was the fear among German fans that the Scandinavian attack of Marcus Berg – a striker who plays in Saudi Arabia and Ola Toivonen – a striker who warms the bench for the relegation-battling Toulouse in Ligue 1, was being spoken of with the same kind of reverence as Brazil's Ronaldo and Rivaldo at Finnegan's before the game. Their fears did almost derail Germany as Toivonen scored the opener and Berg was brought down in the box for a penalty only for the referee to look the other way. As the whole of Germany grew desperate for a winner, Toni Kroos answered their prayers with one swing of his blessed right foot. A euphoric Germany finally realized that the midfielder from eastern Germany who they disliked for a supposed 'lack of passion' and playing 'un-German football' was the one who dragged them out of a foxhole to keep their title-defence alive. Out came all the German flags on the roofs of cars and houses once again that were hidden away after the Mexico game.
The change in mood was so drastic that the shots Kroos attempted against Mexico and Sweden were no longer booed and jeered as before. Against Korea, Germany wanted more from the German they once liked to dislike.
What goes around usually comes around in football. Germany fielded their squad's third possible permutation in defence and midfield against South Korea knowing all too well what was at stake.
Back in Germany, Adidas HQ welcomed Edwin van Der Saar as the whole company took time off work to watch the game at their own public fan fest. The workforce turned out in their Germany kits barring a small section of Koreans, Mexicans, and Argentine fans who made their support for the Koreans visible with Korean flags painted on their faces. German spirits were as high as ever despite their delicate qualification situation and fans didn't think twice before engaging in banter with Van Der Saar on Netherlands' failure to qualify. Little did they know that the Ajax sporting director would have the last laugh. German fans even went to the extent of making jokes about Niklaus Sule weighing more than the whole Korean team. Was it a joke on Korea or Sule, I still wonder.
In 2002, Germany knocked out South Korea in the semi-finals snatching away their opportunity to play in their 1st World Cup final. In 2018 as Mexican fans lifted aloft the handful of Koreans present on their shoulders, revenge for 2002 was exacted. Sheepish German fans sat still struggling to accept the fact that their beloved Die Mannschaft were knocked out. The others, miffed with the performance, stormed off to the car-park creating the most disorganised German traffic jam I've ever seen.
Rejoicing amidst sorrow
"Emotions make people behave uncharacteristically" my French flatmate joked as all the non-Germans revelled at the sight of the once cocky but now dejected German faces.
Raising a toast to Mexico, all the non-Germans went Prost (cheers in German) to some Coronas and waved our German colleagues goodbye.
The drives are devoid of German flags and even the mention of Die Mannschaft draws glares from strangers. Two years seems like a long time away for the flags to come out again. If it is any consolation, it can only go up from here for the Germans.
Updated Date: Jun 29, 2018 19:56:34 IST