The concept of tragedy has never been the easiest to define. A notion dear to poets and playwrights throughout the ages, its goal as a literary genre is to instil ‘terror and pity' in the audience by placing characters squarely in the grip of destiny. In classical tragedy, the narrative motors forward at a tidy pace to help ratchet up the tension.
From that point of view, the quarter-final between Brazil and Germany at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009 contained all the elements beloved of those bygone tragedians. Far from bowing down before their adversaries, the youthful Germany side toiled away tirelessly and even allowed themselves to believe, for a few brief instants, that victory might be theirs after Lewis Holtby gave them the lead in the 73rd minute.
Instead, two goals from Maicon - the first in the dying moments of normal time and the second soon after the start of extra time - put a definitive end to their world title dreams. A day on from that defeat, the dejection was still palpable around the Mannschaft camp.
"Obviously, we're sad," explained coach Horst Hrubesch. "We had the match in our grasp and we literally handed the Brazilians victory. We had chances to make the game safe but we succumbed to two individual mistakes. You can't allow yourself oversights like that at this stage of the competition." The former international striker will nonetheless leave Egypt in a positive frame of mind. "We mustn't get dramatic. We were already pleased that we reached this far. We surpassed our own expectations and I'm very proud of my boys. They went on a great run."
‘A fantastic experience'
Despite a few difficult moments, Germany finished top of their group before turning in a heroic performance against Nigeria in the Round of 16, and thanks to that triumph they can return home satisfied with their efforts. "We can be proud of what we've accomplished," said captain Florian Jungwirth.
"It was a very attractive match between two great teams," Richard Sukuta-Pasu told FIFA.com after the Brazil game. "We came within two minutes of a place in the semi-finals. That's football - you can't win all the time." Rather than dwell on the disappointment of defeat, the Bayer Leverkusen striker, who notched two goals in Egypt, would rather hold on to happier memories. "Now we need to look towards the future," he added. "The overall picture is positive. We played some very good matches and we reached as far as the quarter-finals. I'm proud of my team-mates."
There was a measure of consolation too in the news that the senior team clinched their place in the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ in Moscow on Saturday evening. The youngsters' goal now will be to force their way into Joachim Low's squad as soon as possible. "Naturally, I dream of being called up to the national team one day," added Sukuta-Pasu. "I'm going to work hard in the coming months to make myself indispensable."
Midfielder Semih Aydilek sounded an equally determined note. "This World Cup will serve as a fantastic experience. We've learnt a lot on a personal and professional level, and it bodes well for the rest of our careers."
As for coach Hrubesch, he is already preparing himself to work with a new batch of promising young talents. "I'm going to get to know a new generation of players," he said. "Perhaps we'll get a chance to speak again in two years' time at the next World Cup."