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07.06.10

Why We Should Root for Germany

Gone are the days of ABG, or Anyone But Germany. The team that meets Spain in today’s World Cup semifinal is not only multicultural, brilliant, and youthful—but downright lovable, says Tunku Varadarajan.

Spain takes on Germany on Wednesday in the second semifinal of the “soccer” World Cup, and were it not for the fact that I have lived in Spain, speak its beautiful language (a language beautiful, it should be said, only when spoken with a Castilian rasp), and delight in its poetry and people, I would, without a shred of doubt, be rooting for the Germans. A phenomenon that had begun to take shape in the last World Cup—held, helpfully, in Germany—has now acquired an irrefutable form: For the first time since the end of the Second World War, it is not merely not taboo for neutrals to cheer for Germany, it is, in fact, an irresistible thing to do.

It seems so right—so perfectly just—that the Germans should win this year. They are not merely sparkling football players, but cultural revolutionaries of high order.

Gone are the days when only those who were German, or the mothers of Germans, or those who lived in certain peculiar pockets of Argentina, Brazil, or Paraguay, egged on the men from Deutschland. Gone, indeed, are the days of ABG, Anyone But Germany, which was the default position of every couch-kartoffel in every World Cup match involving Germany. Germany v. Argentina? Argentina! Germany v. Brazil? Brazil! Germany v. the Netherlands? Heck, the Netherlands! Germany v. Italy? Italy...though grudgingly, in certain quarters, as the Italians are, in their own adamantine way, a profoundly unlovable soccer team. Germany v. Mars? Go, little green men! Even in a game as Teutonically unappetizing, as would then have been the case, as Germany v. Austria, one’s politico-aesthetic prejudices would lead one to plump for Austria. (That said, it was hardly surprising, when it happened, that the most scandalous game in the history of the World Cup involved West Germany v. Austria, a game that soccer historians call the “Anschluss.”)

Full coverage of the World CupNone of this is true today. It is possible, now, to go well beyond a stiff and despairing respect for the German team—which many fans, even in opposition, were sure to do, in the same way Monty expressed respect for Rommel, or Patton for the Wehrmacht. It is possible to move beyond the sulking, glowering fatalism that marked most encounters with Germany: The Germans always won, and always had the luck, not to mention the rub of the referee’s decisions (except in 1966, in the finals). None of that is true today. We’re talking now of much, much more: of admiration that borders on love; or even, in many cases, of love itself.

I love this German team, which is sinuous and brilliant and fluid and youthful. Deutschland uber alles has morphed into Deutchland-including-alles: Özil is from Turkey, Klose and Podolski are from Poland, Cacau (they call him Hans, of course) from Brazil, Boateng is half-Ghanaian. But fear not, they still have men in their midst called Bastian Schweinsteiger, a central casting Teuton name that would, in previous years, have provoked titters and sniggers, but now passes unnoticed by fans who care only about his bustling, cerebral, muscular brand of German football-engineering. What’s more—and what is most refreshing in this Man’s Game played by so many cheating wusses—the Germans don’t dive or whine or cup their hands before their faces in aggressive supplication each time referee calls a foul on them. They are clean, unclouded spirits, with a simple, refreshing narrative of playing and scoring, of winning without adornment, but with an abundance of style.

There can be no doubt that affairs beyond the field of play have cast their spell. The unification of Germany, when it came, was feared by some; but oddly, its risks and pitfalls made the Germans somewhat more lovable. The Ossies, in their unkempt droves, made the Germans seem human; and later, by the disorderliness of their compact with democracy, those same Ossies made the erstwhile West Germans seem so much more like us. Helmut Kohl, a behemoth who ate vast meals that were the German equivalent of “ turducken,” has given way to the sweetly no-nonsense Angela Merkel, last seen dancing jigs on TV as her boys made spätzle of the Argentines. All this while she and her fellow Germans were bailing out Greece (and doing us all a favor, as Nouriel Roubini would, no doubt, agree).

Given what Germany has done, selflessly, to keep the Eurozone afloat, it would surely be a scandal if the likes of Greece, Ireland, and Italy did not cheer for the Germans on Wednesday. It would, of course, be much too much to ask the same of the Spaniards, whose own economy awaits German benediction, but maybe their gratitude will be expressed once Spain has lost to Germany, as it surely will, and Germany takes on the Dutch in the finals.

And when that happens, I, for one, will be vuvuzelling (metaphorically) for the Germans. The Netherlands has never won before, and has its own sentimental claim on the cup, but it seems so right—so perfectly just—that the Germans should win this year. They are not merely sparkling football players, but cultural revolutionaries of high order. And the extinguishing of a great taboo is worth a great trophy.

Tunku Varadarajan is a national affairs correspondent and writer at large for The Daily Beast. He is also a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and a professor at NYU’s Stern Business School. He is a former assistant managing editor at The Wall Street Journal. (Follow him on Twitter here.)