It is a given that the very least expected of Germany's Nationalmannschaft is unremitting determination and unquestionable unity. The fact the world has been treated to so much more has been one of the purest thrills of this World Cup.
But for a budding team up against all the knowhow of the reigning European champions, Germany could not quite muster enough of their new vibrancy, or their old resilience at the moment when it mattered, to overcome the odds.
Their tournament has been largely about the new generation, the melting pot of talent that has been simmering nicely for a decade, since Germany suffered an uncharacteristically embarrassing show at Euro 2000. This emerging group has time as well as talent on its side. And as usual, they will doubtless bring their indefatigable drive into tournaments of the future.
Should it be taken for granted that the basic principle of commitment to teamwork comes with the territory? Perhaps it should be more admired than simply taken for granted as the norm now that it is not uncommon to see major national teams blunder under the weight of their collective egos. It is hard to imagine that Germany could ever behave as indecently as the French, implode as spectacularly as the Italians, or grumble as tactlessly as the English. But that does not mean we should not respect them for a seamless flow of mettle. So many members of their squad are new to this scale of pressure and attention. None have been anything other than exemplary.
In this World Cup perhaps more than any other, any selfishness or sullenness would have been particularly inappropriate for the Germans. Every man of their squad, their coaching staff, their back-up teams and federation blazers felt a heightened sense of their fortune to be involved and to be part of something special. They have been sensitive enough not to make it into a public cause, but within their ranks they carried with them the memory of Robert Enke with every minute of every match of this World Cup journey.
Had the fates not taken such a heartbreaking turn, Enke would more than likely have been their first-choice goalkeeper in South Africa. The Hannover player won his last international cap at the beginning of the 2009-10 season. Three months later, he jumped in front of a train and killed himself. The national team were present at his funeral. It was a desperately sad affair, with his friends, family and team-mates all unaware that the player's depression had become so acute.
It is far too trite to suggest that Enke's tragedy gave Germany extra motivation, but it is impossible to imagine that such a trauma would not have made a deep impression inside the camp. “He will always have a place in our team,” said Michael Ballack, in South Africa to lend support from the touchline. “The players, the staff, the management all knew him, and it's still in our minds, and in the fans' minds. The further Germany go in the tournament, the more emotional it will get.”
In their efforts to proceed past a Spain team that was their undoing two years ago in the final of Euro 2008, Germany inevitably had to rein in some of the exuberance that was a hallmark of their handsome wins over Australia, England and Argentina.
They leaned more heavily on the traditional quality of doggedness to withstand some of the flickering pressure mounted by Spain. They had to hang in there in the second half when Xavi Alonso was granted space for a couple of pot shots, and were grateful to Manuel Neuer for smothering a threatening attempt from Pedro. The 24-year-old goalkeeper, who this time last year was part of the squad that won the Under-21 European Championship, had the experience of only a handful of caps prior to this tournament. Neuer could not hide his frustration as Carles Puyol pumped a header past him from a corner, to give Spain the edge.
It was not surprising that Germany missed the presence and goal threat of the suspended Thomas Müller. It was hardly unexpected that Bastian Schweinsteiger would be a little bit too preoccupied in midfield than he has been in previous matches to allow for him to maraud as much as he would like. It was barely unreasonable that Mesut Ozil would have less space to craft a pass, that Miroslav Klose would strain to sniff out another opening.
World Cup number four has passed them by for now, leaving Spain and Holland to battle it out to plant their flag for the first time at the game's summit. But it will be surprising if this Germany team do not come on strong again.
© Guardian News and Media 2010
Keywords: 2010 World Cup