SANTO ANDRE, Brazil: History weighs heavily on the shoulders of football players from Germany, a country that latches on to the glory of its three World Cup titles with special reverence – in part due to a shortage of national heroes after its belligerent 20th century.
Winning trophies, and especially the World Cup, is special in countries almost everywhere but for Germans the dreams, aspirations and identity of the entire nation are closely linked to their success – or failure – in the four-yearly tournament.
The World Cup has become part of their fabric since West Germany won their first crown in 1954 in Switzerland – a victory over mighty Hungary known as the “Miracle of Berne” that gave a broken, bombed out nation humiliated and disgraced by World War II a desperately needed new identity.
The players on that 1954 team are revered in Germany and historians point to that world title nearly a decade after the end of World War II as marking the rebirth of West Germany and starting point for the country’s postwar “economic miracle.”
Their second World Cup success in 1974 against favorites the Netherlands on home soil and their third title win over Argentina in Italy in 1990 on the eve of German reunification, did similar wonders for the national psyche and gave the nation something to be proud of and even, briefly, patriotic about.
Now, another generation later and almost exactly 60 years after their first World Cup trophy, Germans have a heavy sense of entitlement that they deserve to triumph for a fourth time.
There is a lot of pressure on hosts Brazil to win Tuesday’s semifinal but the German players have to cope with more than that – they carry the weight of their nation’s expectations that they will at long last bring home an elusive fourth World Cup title that they feel rightfully belongs to them this time.
“Germany deserves to finally win the World Cup again,” said playmaker Mesut Ozil just before the tournament began. “All of Germany expects us to win it. So we know the pressure’s on.
“We know we can all become legends if we win because no other European country has ever won the World Cup in South America.”
It has been 24 long years since West Germany last won the World Cup and, after getting to at least the semifinals in the previous three tournaments, Germans feel they are now overdue another boost to their national psyche.
“You get the feeling that nothing less than winning the World Cup is enough for us now,” Loew said in October 2013 after extending his contract for another two years to mid-2016. “I think that’s a bit disrespectful for the other nations who also have immense quality on their teams. It’s wrong to think Germany will naturally win it all when it’s at the World Cup.”
Expectations are also so high because Loew’s “golden generation” of players have reached at least the semifinals of the last four major tournaments in the last eight years – two World Cups and two European championships.
Loew has made sure there is a buffer between the towering expectations at home and getting the job done in Brazil with Germany’s secluded team base in a remote corner of northeastern Brazil on the Atlantic designed to shield the players.
“We all know that everyone in Germany is crossing their collective fingers for us that we’ll win the title this time,” Loew said at the start of tournament. “We’re going to do everything we can here to make everyone happy back home.”