After a gap of thirty-two years, the FIFA World Cup finally returned to Germany in 2006. The mood in the country before the big kick-off had been markedly pessimistic, with coach Jürgen Klinsmann’s head on the chopping block following a depressing 4-1 reverse at the hands of Italy in early March. The pressure was truly on with the next fixture against the United States, which was seen by many as the public’s last vote of confidence in a coach that had been lauded as innovative by some and castigated as clueless and erratic by others, paricularly in the media.
Germany beat the Americans 4-1 and Klinsmann kept his job; the rest, as they say, is history. In what was one of the most unexpected and refreshing turnarounds in German footbaling fortunes, Klinsmann’s young side truly warmed themselves to what had been a highly sceptical public, and in the process stoked a flame that helped transform the entire country. A victory in the final would have elevated Klinsmann to German football immortality, but a heart-breaking extra-time defeat to Italy – yes, them again – in the semi-final would mean that that the new-look young Mannschaft would be playing for third place.
Klinsmann and his coaching team had clearly been vindicated, and the new approach was no longer questioned when Klinsi recommended to the DFB that his coaching partner Joachim “Jogi” Löw – who had been the real brain behind the new approach – take the helm. 2006 served to mark a sea change in German football, and the success of the tournament as a whole was the catalyst for a concerted move away from the increasingly stale old approach towards one that placed emphasis on dynamism, movement and individual creative intelligence – and blue cashmere sweaters. Age-old values such as solidity, discipline and teamwork were not dispensed with, but simply merged into this new and creative approach.
The quest by the home side to win the trophy – and the heightened sense of optimism that had slowly started to develop with each successive victory – was wonderfully captured by filmmaker Sönke Wortmann in his fly-on-the-wall documentary Deutschland. Ein Sommermärchen – “Germany. A summer fairy tale”. Within a month of its release in German cinemas Wortmann’s film had been seen by some four million people, making it the most commercially successful German documentary.
Had 2006 turned into the disaster many had predicted before the tournament began it is highly likely that the baby might have been thrown out with the bathwater, with Klinsmann and Löw being replaced by a member of the old guard. No sane individual would have wanted to take the job, and it would have been Erich Ribbeck all over again – a terrifying thought.
As with the previous tournament in Korea and Japan, there were thirty-two finalists divided into eight groups of four, with the top two in each group progressing to the knockout round of sixteen. In what was a significant change to the qualifying process, the current holder of the trophy was no longer give a free place at the finals – which meant that 2002 champions Brazil had to qualify to be in Germany. The Golden Goal tie-breaker ruling was also scrapped, seeing a return to the system that had existed prior to the 1996 European Championship. At the Euros in 2004 a “silver goal” scheme had been implemented, but this too had proved unsatisfactory – leading to the powers to finally concede the fact that the age-old method of deciding knockout fixtures in two full periods of extra-time was probably the best way after all.
Sixty-four matches were played, producing a total of 147 goals at an average of 2.3, the lowest since Italia ’90. The tournament matches were played in twelve stadia in twelve host cities between 9th June and 9th July.
Qualifying Campaign and pre-tournament build-up
As hosts Germany didn’t have to qualify, which meant that additional emphasis was played on the friendly games leading up to the tournament. They did however have some competitive football between 2004 and 2006 in hosting the 2005 Confederations Cup, which saw them beating Mexico for third place in an extra-time thriller after losing a close semi-final to eventual winners Brazil by the odd goal in five.
2006 had seen a horrific start for the Nationalelf, and in particular coach Jürgen Klinsmann whose tenure was hanging by the finest of threads. A 4-1 early March defeat in Italy – which could have been far worse – stoked the flames of the yellow press, who were almost in unison calling for his head. With their coach ninety minutes from having to look for a new job, the team responded in the best possible fashion as they dispatched a game United States 4-1. One could even argue that Klinsmann was one half away from a career derailment, as his side had gone into the break at 0-0.
With much of the immediate heat taken off of the coach, three fixtures were arranged for late May and early June; the first of these against Luxembourg saw a clinical display by the Germans as they racked up an answered seven-goal haul, but the doubts returned with a shaky display against Japan in Leverkusen, where they found themselves having to come back from two goals down to salvage a 2-2 draw. With the media knives being sharpened again, Klinsmann’s side lined up for their last warm-up match with Colombia a week before the tournament was to begin – they responded in grand style, strolling to a 3-0 win.
Germany’s Tournament in brief
The opening match of the World Cup finals had always been seen as something of a cagey affair, but the hosts bucked the trend in romping to an entertaining 4-2 win over Costa Rica with Phillip Lahm igniting the tournament with his superb opening strike. Free-flowing entertainment was replaced with high tension for the Mannschaft’s second group game, where Poland somehow managed to stave off everything including the kitchen sink until the death – when last-minute specialist Oliver Neuville met a superb cross from sub David Odonkor. With their place in the second phase assured, Jürgen Klinsmann’s confident young side dispatched Ecaudor 3-0 to take the maximum nine points.
There was no let up in the second phase, as Sweden were put to the sword. Two Lukas Podolski goals had put the home team 2-0 up at half time, though it really should have been more. Sweden then had a man sent off and even missed a penalty, but there was never any doubt about the final outcome. The drama continued in the quarter-final against old enemy Argentina, where a Klose header ten minutes from time cancelled out an earlier Ayala goal. Extra time gave way to the inevitable Elfmeterschießen: every kick was drilled home, and Jens Lehmann – armed with his little scrap of paper – kept out two of the opposition spot-kicks to secure a spot in the last four.
Nobody had expected all of this, but as soon as the confidence began to bubble up, it then almost immediately boiled over. Germany headed to fortress Dortmund for the semi-final against Italy with high hopes, but saw them crash to the ground with two Italian goals right at the end of extra-time. Despite the semi-final defeat Klinsmann’s squad maintained their focus for the third-place playoff against Portugal, and stormed to a magnificent 3-1 win – which saw a stunning brace of long-range strikes from rising star Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Klinsmann’s men had been desperate to sign off on a high note, and this they did – and then some. German football was finally on the way back up again.
v Costa Rica First Phase Group A, München, 09.06.2006 View Report »
v Poland First Phase Group A, Dortmund, 14.06.2006 View Report »
v Ecuador, First Phase Group Group A, Berlin, 20.06.2006 View Report »
v Sweden, Second Phase, München, 26.06.2006 View Report »
v Argentina, Quarter-Final, Berlin, 30.06.2006 View Report »
v Italy, Semi-Final, Dortmund, 04.07.2006 View Report »
v Portugal, Third Place Play-off, Stuttgart, 08.07.2006 View Report »