German Angst Before Group D

Today we finish up our look at the Euro 2004 Group D (“Group of Death”) reactions, this time out of the German press. And there’s certainly plenty there – aided by the fact that the German on-line newspapers, helpfully, don’t follow the practice of enclosing their articles behind for-pay barriers once they get the least bit old.

Die Welt probably has the most complete coverage, headed by an article eloquently entitled Ausgerechnet Holland, or “Of All Teams – Holland!”, complete with a photo at the top of German national team coach Rudi Völler looking very anxious.


And indeed, Die Welt quotes him as coming up with his own name for Group D – it’s a “hammer group.” The competition will naturally be very hard, much harder than could have been expected, but it seems that Völler is even more upset about the sheer timing: Group D gets started with its games last, so that the German team – along with its three group competitors – will have to wait three whole days while the rest of the tournament is going on before they can first get into action on 15 June. But Völler tries to put a brave face on things – relatively: “We can’t go and hide. If we keep good form in that first match, winning or tying against Holland, then we’ll go into the other games with a lighter frame-of-mind.” Oh, so now tying against Holland is acceptable!

Die Welt carried on with two extra articles which each focus on one of what is expected to be Germany’s main rivals in Group D – i.e. Latvia is denied the honor of its own article. The one about the Dutch team (Favorite for the Title, If the Team-Spirit Holds Up) is particularly interesting; the Netherlands is identified in it as Germany’s greatest challenge, straight out. As proof, the long roster of Dutch international stars is trotted out again: Van Nistlerooy, Makaay of Bayern München (except note: Dutch coach Dick Advocaat does not play him very much!), Kluivert, and Edgar Davids of Juventus. But note the proviso in the article’s title: “if the team-spirit holds up.” That has indeed been the problem in the past; the Dutch have gotten themselves into difficulties through their intramural bickering. The article notes that they didn’t really come together as a team until the last minute in the qualifying stages, namely their huge 6-0 win only two weeks ago against Scotland.

Then Die Welt examines the Czech team. One German football expert cites them (and therefore not Holland) as the second-in-line favorite to win the title behind France. And, indeed, the Czechs beat France 2-0 in a friendly match in spring of 2002 to help warm the French up for the World Cup of that year in Japan and South Korea – a tournament which the Czechs did not attend. We meet Pavel Nedved, Czech team captain, again in this article. His comments: “An unpleasant group. Germany is always strong in tournaments, the Dutch want to pay us back for the trouble we caused them in qualification, and Latvia is dangerous as an outsider.”


The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung also has its own coverage, of course, entitled The German Luck-Fairy Hits the Road (that’s my version, folks, of Die deutsche Glücksfee macht frei). Also not a very happy article; it describes in detail how Rudi Völler was clearly not a happy or relaxed man last Sunday in Lisbon, as the Group drawing was announced. He even said “It’s hard to say who the favorite is. But the Czechs and the Dutch, to judge by recent results, have better chances [to advance out of the group] than we do. One has to view that realistically.” One interesting revelation from the FAZ article is that that scheduled friendly match between the Dutch and German teams on February 18 is now in danger of being canceled solely out of concerns from the Dutch side; the Germans would just as soon let it be played. (The reason why, you see, is that last month the Germans were beaten by the French 3-0 in another friendly played in Germany. The Germans would really like to be able to do something, quick, to regain their confidence.)

Next to Die Welt, Berlin’s Der Tagesspiegel probably has the best coverage, including an interesting article entitled Wide Eyes (I guess “wide eyes” in dismay, or amazement). According to writer Martin Hägele, the drawing for Group D could hardly have been any worse. And he tracks interesting developments in the behavior of the head of the German Football Federation, Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder. Mayer-Vorfelder (Völler’s boss, basically) has long been on record as demanding that the German team at Euro 2004 at least attain the semi-finals. But, faced with the Group D drawing in Lisbon, he backed off somewhat: now it’s “if we can only survive the opening round” – if – “then we can also get as far as the semi-finals.” Hägele also reveals that it’s highly likely that that Dutch-German friendly for February will wind up being canceled next week.

But what is really amusing is the let-it-all-hang-out editorial by Michael Rosentritt that appears alongside the above article in Der Tagesspiegel, entitled Da geht doch was! which, I would say, roughly translates to “There’s something going on there!” It looks bleak for Germany; our usual luck has deserted us, Rosentritt writes. The Dutch demolished the Scots – and the Czechs beat the Dutch! And the Latvians beat the Turks! As Völler said, we have nothing to celebrate about.

But we want something to celebrate about! Rosentritt insists. After all, in 2002 we went all the way to the finals! Look on the bright side: At least we don’t have to start off against the English, or the Spanish, or the French, or the Italians – strong teams, all of them. And maybe it’s good to go up against the Dutch right away, to get the tough one out of the way. (That’s what German goalie Oliver Kahn said in the Süddeutsche Zeitung: Da wissen wir, wo es langgeht, or “Then we know just what is what.”) And anyway, opines Rosentritt, those other teams should remember that we are Germany! – with the second-most successful record in international football tournaments in the world (behind the Brazilians) and the most successful record within Europe. So bring the Dutch and the Czechs on! (Also, her mit diesen Niederländern und Tschechen!)

Then the quotes, first from the Berliner Morgenpost:

  • Oliver Kahn (again): “It’s a tough group. It seems like it has three favorites [and only two can advance, of course”>. One should not underestimate the Latvians.”
  • Jens Nowotny (current German team defender): “A pretty group. Latvia is an interesting team, we’ve never played against them. The strength of the Czechs and the Dutch is well-known. It is doable to survive the opening round.”
  • Günter Netzer (German television football expert): “Our luck has abandoned us. The Czechs are for me among the top favorites. It is no dramatically bad starting-position, but also not pretty.”
  • Roy Makaay (attacker for the Dutch team; as I say, mysteriously little-used): “We knew that we would get two difficult opponents. We still have things to settle (actually, “an open bill to pay”) with the Czechs. It’s always very nice to play against Germany.”
  • Pavel Nedved (yes, “Mr. Sunshine” again; you know who he is by this point): “I am appalled, absolutely not enthusiastic that we have to meet the Dutch again. And the Germans are always better playing in tournaments. In a word: an unpleasant group.”

Finally, how about just the remarks from the Dutch and German trainers from Der Tagespiegel? (You see, otherwise I would have to give you another Pavel Nedved quote!)

  • Dick Advocaat: “The German team has always shown at the big tournaments that they can bite. That won’t be any different this time.”
  • Rudi Völler: “That is without a doubt a strong group. Clearly other combinations were possible which on paper would have seemed easier. The one thing that bothers me is the late begin to the tournament [for us], at a point when all the others will already have played.”
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