The History of the National Team
Titles, triumphs and tears. The German national team stands for major success and huge emotions, for sporting excellence and excellent integration. And for millions of fans, it stands for unforgettable moments.
The association has a variety of duties to fulfil, in social and in socio-political areas, in grass-roots sport and in recreational sport. But above all, the German Football Association is measured by its sporting standards. As a result, the association heads acknowledge being amongst the sporting elite as their highest priority, especially considering that major success at the top makes their quests in other areas easier to accomplish.
At the top of the list is the national team. No other institution resonates with the public as much or enjoys a similar level of acceptance amongst sponsors. Sold out stadiums for home games are the norm, excited fans creating a see of black, red and gold flags are a familiar sight. Even at home or at public viewings, the amount of support is huge. No other spectacle brings the masses together in front of a TV screen than a match involving a selection of Germany’s best footballers.
The national team has managed to exude excellence and reliability for decades and continues to produce big personalities as role models. The national team’s success speaks for itself: World Cup winners on three occasions, runners-up four times, four third-place finishes, three-time European Championship winners and also runners-up in that competition on three occasions. Germany have taken part at every World Cup since 1954 and at every European Championship since 1972 and have reached 13 finals at these major tournaments. With a record like that, the German national team are amongst the international elite – it’s the basis for the great reputation that German football enjoys around the globe. Those statistics are complemented by the Olympic win in 1976 in Montreal for East Germany’s Football Association, as well as bronze medals at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games and the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. That gold medal came under coach Georg Buschner, who also led the East Germany national team to their only participation at the finals of a World Cup in 1974, where they secured a memorable 1-0 win over the Federal Republic of Germany in Hamburg.
The story of the DFB’s national team began eight years after the association was founded – and it began with a defeat. On April 5th 1908, Switzerland won 5-3 against a group of German players put together by the DFB match committee. There was no coach in these early years, which lacked sporting success; only two of the first ten international fixtures ended in victory. It took 14 attempts, until 1922, before the national team could end a calendar year with a positive record. Germany beat Austria, with matches against Switzerland and Hungary ending in draws. From 1932 onwards, the national team’s success began an upwards trend. Players like Paul Janes, Ernst Lehner, Edmund Cohen and in particular Fritz Szepan helped produce positive results. Nevertheless, considering the bumpy first few years, no one could have predicted the status that the Germany national team would eventually gain, not just in sporting terms but also in the social life of the entire country.
The Kaiser’s Hat-Trick
Throughout the history of German football, there have been many great national teams: The heroes of Bern (1954), Munich (1974) and Rome (1990) are all immortal. But even the tragic losers have their place the German football’s hall of fame. The defeat to England in the 1966 World Cup final together with that “Wembley goal” and the 3-4 loss to Italy in the “Game of the Century” in the semi-finals of the 1970 World Cup in Mexico are examples of how the DFB Team have dealt with disappointment fairly.
The 1954 World Cup in Switzerland was quintessential in shaping and influencing the national team. The 3-2 final win against a Hungary team deemed unbeatable triggered a state of ecstasy and gave a nation that had suffered a terrible war under a Nazi dictatorship new sense of life and self-worth. The “Heroes of Bern” became eternal legends and the national team was etched into German society.
That is how it has remained to this day, not least because the generations that have succeeded the Heroes of Bern have illustriously continued their legacy. After Fritz Walter came Uwe Seeler, after “Our Uwe” came Franz Beckenbauer, after the “Kaiser” came Berti Vogts, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Lothar Matthäus, Rudi Völler, Jürgen Klinsmann and Matthias Sammer.
These days, household names like Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mesut Özil and Manuel Neuer shine both on and off the pitch. Along with outstanding young talents such as Marco Reus and Mario Götze, the national team’s established players have reached a new standard of football and have led Germany back to the top. The DFB Team are consistently amongst the top three in FIFA’s world rankings, with only World Cup and European Championship winners Spain positioned higher on a regular basis. When the Germany national team go into the finals of a major tournament, they’re always amongst the favourites. The opponents’ traditional respect for the efficiency of Germany’s game is now paired with high regard for the superior technical ability of the side. The national team have featured in the semi-finals during each of the last four major tournaments (either World Cup or European Championship) and the 2014 World Cup in Brazil offers the chance for Germany to finally end their title-less run, which has hung over them since 1996.
One of the national team’s strengths has always been their continuity in key positions. Joachim Löw is only the tenth different head coach, while several players can look back on long careers in the DFB jersey. In fact, Germany’s record appearance holder Lothar Matthäus has led the world rankings for a long time with his 150 international caps.
Something that remained untouched for a long time was Gerd Müller’s record goal haul. The former FC Bayern München striker netted 68 goals in 62 international appearances. In September 2013, Müller was finally joined at the top of the all-time goalscorer list by Miroslav Klose. The Lazio striker scored his 68th international goal in a 3-0 win against Austria. It’s now only a matter of time before Klose knocks Müller off his perch altogether – however, “Miro” has required a total of 129 caps for his 68 goals, more than twice as many as the “Bomber”.
But Franz Beckenbauer towers above them all. The “Kaiser” does not hold the most appearances, nor has he scored the most goals, but Beckenbauer has a very special hat-trick with the national team. He has won the World Cup in two different roles: As captain of the side back in 1974 and as team manager in 1990. His hat-trick is completed by the 2006 World Cup. As chairman of the bid committee, he had the decisive say in Germany being accepted as hosts. As head of the organising committee, he had a big hand in the huge success of the event, which became a “Summer Fairytale” thanks to the national team.