Victory against Peru, defeat against Belgium: The first two international matches after the World Cup have been mixed for the German national soccer team. In terms of sport, the way back to the top of the world is long. Also because the problems of the DFB-Elf go far beyond results.
It certainly wasn’t DJ Teddy-O’s fault. He gave everything before the international match of the DFB selection against Belgium. The bass boomed loudly, the words of the concubine were lost in the roar of the music. The mission was clear to everyone: the Cologne audience was to be prepared for a 90-minute football spectacle with a fierce fairground atmosphere. The DFB stadium announcer also exhausted himself. So much so that he inadvertently celebrated the Belgians’ first goal with surprising enthusiasm – simply because a goal had been scored.
But that’s actually what it’s all about: the passion, the football, the fans! Over the years, the German national soccer team has become alienated from its spectators. More and more the question arose, for whom is “Die Team” actually playing? For a long time neither for the inclined public nor for success. In the last three tournaments, the DFB selection did miserably: out after the group stages in Qatar (2022) and Russia (2018), in the round of 16 at the EM 2021.
And that’s why the German Football Association (DFB) turned it upside down. Only the long coaching era of Joachim Löw ended, instead Hansi Flick took over. Then Oliver Bierhoff, the maker of the “team”, left, replaced by someone who had already helped out the DFB: Rudi Völler. As if sporting success wasn’t difficult enough, the 62-year-old has another function: he should bring the fans back to the DFB-Elf. The mission is clear: “First we’ll try to win people back and then we’ll try it at the European Championship,” was Völler’s analysis of the World Cup debacle.
Family-friendly kick-off times are different
Bring people back, just how? If it were that easy, they would never have turned away. The strategy of the DFB is based on two pillars: create more proximity and simply win games again. Means: more selfie appointments and also more successful games. But it probably won’t be that easy. The “restart” suggests that this could be a difficult mission.
It started on Saturday evening in Mainz. 25,000 people in the sold-out arena saw how coach Hansi Flick’s team played well and then slowly again. With all sorts of newcomers, the 2-0 win against Peru was partly promising, and there was also a new tactical route. With the double lead, the DFB selection obviously enjoyed the combination game. In the stands, however, it was the South American fans who came in surprisingly large numbers. In the second half, the game of the Flick selection slacked off again and was reminiscent of worse moments in recent years.
So try number two. The DFB selection met an equal if not better opponent against Belgium on Tuesday evening. The crowd in Cologne got heated up, Teddy-O’s DJ desk ran hot. Neither the Tuesday as a game day nor the late kick-off time of 8.45 p.m. are really family-friendly. The DFB struggled a bit with ticket sales, but in the end the game was sold out with more than 42,000 people.
Winners are those who aren’t there
From a German point of view, the game started miserably despite the great interest of the spectators. After ten minutes, Belgium was already leading 2-0, the tender feeling of a new start was stifled by the offensive drive of Kevin de Bruyne and the Red Devils. The audience began to gradually process the large-scale “Wille” choreography into paper airplanes and throw them onto the square.
And things didn’t go well otherwise, especially in the first half. The six-man duo Leon Goretzka/Joshua Kimmich did the defense no favors and repeatedly left the back four alone. Interim captain Kimmich had problems growing into his new role anyway. Coach Flick evaporated the dual lead after just over half an hour. After that things went slightly uphill, especially with substitute Emre Can in front of the defence. In the end, the tight-looking result of 2:3 concealed a lot.
Because a new start with old staff is difficult to implement, Flick opened up the DFB selection for numerous new faces for the first friendlies after the World Cup debacle. Some of them were able to partially convince (Marius Wolf), others indicated their ability in short assignments (Kevin Schade). Still others haven’t gotten too much playing time to impress (Malick Thiaw). Bayern star Jamal Musiala was also missing someone who could help shape the future of the DFB team. His Leverkusen counterpart, Florian Wirtz, was not yet fully convincing when he returned to the national jersey after tearing his cruciate ligament.
In view of the changeable performance, those who are actually part of the squad, but were not nominated by Flick this time without need, can feel like winners. Antonio Rüdiger doesn’t have to fear for his job as defense chief, İlkay Gündoğan was missed in the center just as much as Niklas Süle’s robustness. Thomas Müller and Marco Reus could liven up the offensive game as well as Leroy Sané and Jonas Hofmann can hope to be able to use their strengths on the flank again in the next international matches in summer.
Restart with a man from yesterday
So what remains if sport still needs (a lot) of time? Sports director Rudi Völler hinted at it. As one of his first official acts, he cleared – in consultation with the team – the “One Love” armband and replaced it with the black, red and gold model. “I understand that sometimes you have to make a statement, but now it’s back to football,” he announced.
In any case, it is becoming apparent that Völler wants to bring back a very specific type of fan with his appearance. The DFB sports director said in an interview with the “Frankfurter Rundschau” about the climate activists of the “last generation” and explained that gender is not his thing. He wasn’t asked about it but it was obviously important to him. The signal: the days of the Qatar debates are over; anyone who was annoyed by them should please come back.
The “Restart” mission is more difficult for everyone than originally thought. Everyone knows that a complicated relationship cannot be fixed in a hurry. Coach Flick and his protégés thanked the audience excessively after the Belgium bankruptcy. They also know that if the results are not correct, nobody will come back. Nobody knows that better than Völler, who has worked in professional football since he signed his first professional contract in 1978 as an 18-year-old with Kickers Offenbach. Who is now to be the face of this new beginning, this departure into the future – and initially causes a stir as a man from yesterday.