As a loyal fan of England, I've grown up with the habit of always rooting against Germany in every sport, but especially in soccer, no matter who they are playing against. But after Sunday's display of gorgeous, powerful, flowing football in Germany's 4-0 demolition of Australia, I'm wondering if it's time for me to make my peace with the old enemy. The Germans have always played with strength and determination and are famous for never, ever giving up before the final whistle. Now, they're playing with style and grace.
If I'm honest, I have to admit that behind the English antipathy to Germany lies a strong element of envy. The hard fact is that when England face Germany on the football pitch, Germany usually wins.
As one distinguished former England striker, Gary Lineker, once observed: "Soccer is a game for 22 people that run around, play the ball, and one referee who makes a slew of mistakes, and in the end Germany always wins."
We did beat them in that unforgettable 1966 final but since then they've mostly gotten the better of us when it counted. They beat us in the 1970 World Cup quarter finals even though we were 2-0 ahead midway through the second half. They demolished us in the 1972 European Championship, beat us in a penalty shoot-out in the 1990 World Cup semi-finals and again in the 1996 European Championship, both times advancing to win the tournament.
The classic, churlish English rejoinder to such reverses is to recall that Britain (with some help from others) defeated Germany in both the First and Second World Wars. I did some research on the origins of this famous quote which has been attributed to a variety of individuals, including Margaret Thatcher. According to the London Independent, it seems to have been penned by a sports reporter (now deceased) named Frank McGhee who wrote on the eve of the 1966 World Cup final, "If, on the morrow, the Germans beat us at our national game, we'd do well to remember that, twice this century, we have beaten them at theirs." (Incidentally, I could find no evidence for the Thatcher attribution but I'm willing to be corrected.)
One also has to admit that the Germans have changed. Of the 23 players representing Germany at the current World Cup, 11 have foreign backgrounds. More than half of the outfield players were either born outside Germany themselves, or have a non-German parent. The team's newest stars have names like Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira.
Of course, should Germany meet England in the current tournament, my heart will be with England. Otherwise, I'm going to support the team that plays the most attractive football. Should that be Germany, so much the better.