Football Fancy, World Cup 2018: Love, Sweat and Tears
When I was still a kid, I used to love the month of December: when it was getting cold and frosty outside, it meant that Christmas was just around the corner. The days were filled with hot chocolate, baking cookies and decorating the Christmas tree, wondering what surprises Santa Claus might have in store for me that year (he never brought me a horse, not even a pony – but that’s another story).
The anticipation for the World Cup every four years reminds me of those winter days: my childlike excitement in the weeks leading up to the big tournament, hoping and wishing that the God of football would be merciful on the German team.
This year felt a little bit different, for various reasons: the controversial choice of Russia as host, the absence of my all-time favorite German player Bastian Schweinsteiger (I hope you enjoy fatherhood and your well-deserved retirement from the national team, dear Basti) - but mostly I feel out of sync with our national team.
This I must explain first: I am a highly emotional spectator. When I root for a team, I do so whole-heartedly. It comes with a lot of enthusiasm, passion, sweaty palms, a high pulse, frustration, anger and tears, sometimes tears of joy, but even more often, tears out of pain.
There have been many moments in my life as football fan when I resorted to fussing and swearing, yelled at the TV screen and cursed players, referees, coaches, commentators, studio experts and even fans in the stadium (seriously, who boos their own team?!). The memory of Luis Suarez’s handball in 2010, cheating Ghana out of a place in the World Cup semi-finals, still makes my blood boil. I remember my sheer disbelief watching Portugal play against the Netherlands in 2006 when the referee issued an astonishing four red and 16 yellow cards. After every penalty shootout, I swear I notice an instant greying of my hair, and for every own goal I witness, my heart breaks a little, let alone when I see a player coming off with an injury, tears in his eyes. On the other side, I will never forget this feeling of satisfaction and pure joy when I saw Bastian Schweinsteiger, battered and bruised, lifting the World Cup trophy in Brazil.
After seeing the first 16 matches of the group stage (and yes, I saw them all except for one), it is safe to say that this year’s World Cup seems to be no exception: I was devastated when Morocco conceded a goal in injury time (even worse, it was an own goal!), cried a little when Tunisia’s goalkeeper Mouez Hassen had to leave the pitch after only 15 minutes with an injury, but was over the moon when Iceland – my favorite underdog since the Euro 2016 (mine and everyone else’s, I think) – held off Argentina in a 1-1 draw, cheered happily when the Swiss stole one point from the Brazilians and had a blast watching the brilliant spectacle that was Portugal vs. Spain.
Of course, as a German rooting for my home country, the biggest disenchantment came with Die Mannschaft’s 0-1 defeat against Mexico. I have no energy for a long analysis anymore – trust me, in our family, we don’t talk about anything else, be it over the breakfast table, on the terrace or while doing the dishes – but something feels off. Don’t get me wrong: Mexico won deservedly; they played a great game, while Germany’s performance was rather dreadful. However, it was not so much the defeat that bothered me, but the manner, the big picture.
As corny as it may sound, four years ago the German team came across as a big, happy family; posting silly photos and videos on social media, playing pranks on each other, but they were also serious and focused during training sessions and, of course, when it mattered the most, during the games on the pitch, willing to go the extra mile for one another.
I don’t see this kind of bond anymore. The team spirit vanished into thin air, and there is seemingly a gap between the long-established and young players. Obviously, I may be completely wrong, but this is how it looks like to me. And I myself don’t feel in sync with the German team anymore. I miss those positive vibes that were so prevalent during the tournament in Brazil. I don’t know if Jogi Loew can still cook up an effective plan B until Saturday – if he can’t, and if the players don’t pull it together and channel some of that teamgeist that made them World Champions four years ago, then Germany may even bow out of this tournament without reaching the round of 16.
Would I cry if that happens? Possibly. I’d be sad for sure. For most German football fans, it would be nothing short of a catastrophe – which would, obviously, overdramatize things a bit, but we have simply been too spoiled over the past decade. Sometimes though, we have to get knocked down before getting up again (OK, I might have stolen the lines from Chumbawamba’s song “Tubthumping” here).
Even my younger self realized at some point that Santa Claus isn’t real, that there would never be a pony waiting for me under the Christmas tree, and that too many cookies aren’t good for the blood sugar level. Did I cry when I realized that? Possibly.