Typical 'German virtues' such as discipline, willpower and determination have long been associated with the German national team. While the Brazilians have their Jogo Bonito [beautiful game] and the Italians their Catenaccio [locked defence], the three-time FIFA World Cup™ winners have always been branded as a side low on excitement but high on efficiency.
But even football changes with time. One runner-up and two third-placed finishes at the last three FIFA World Cups have catapulted Germany right back to the forefront of the global game. But the aforementioned virtues have been just one small part of the Europeans' rise up the international ladder. To the surprise of many, creativity has been the chief cause behind the Germans' recent success, with numerous young, technically gifted players making the breakthrough into the national team over the last few years, giving the side a youthful exuberance rarely seen before.
At the heart of the revolution is Mesut Ozil, the 21-year-old playmaker who combines efficiency and elegance better than any of his peers. "Ozil makes the game look easy, and that's an art form," said his new club coach at Real Madrid, Jose Mourinho. It was the Portuguese tactician who battled and ultimately succeeded in securing the German's signature after his scintillating performances at South Africa 2010.
"I'm a chilled-out guy and I like to play the odd practical joke. That's what helps me concentrate," said the youngster in a recent interview with FIFA.com. Another German FIFA World Cup star who followed Ozil to the Spanish capital, Sami Khedira, has been lauded by Mourinho as "the crown jewel."
But the list of emerging German talents does not stop there. Thomas Muller, also just 21, has advanced from reserve-team obscurity at Bayern Munich to star performer for both club and country in little over a year. At South Africa 2010, the gangly forward not only picked up the award for Best Young Player, but also took the gong for the tournament's top scorer. "There is no young or old, just good or bad," said the Bavarian to FIFA's official website.
Muller, along with Bayern club-mates Bastian Schweinsteiger (26), captain Philipp Lahm (26), Holger Badstuber (21), Mario Gomez (25) and Miroslav Klose (32), was joined in South Africa by fellow youngster Toni Kroos (20). The 20-year-old has received nothing but praise since bursting onto the scene three years ago, captaining his country to third place at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2007 and picking up the adidas Golden Ball as the tournament's best player in the process.
"He's clearly a world-class player. You just have to look at the things he does in training," said Klose. Legendary Germany goalkeeper Oliver Kahn also acknowledged Kroos' burgeoning potential: "He's the best footballer I've seen come through the youth ranks in years."
Another fledgling international predicted to have a stellar career ahead of him is Werder Bremen's Marko Marin (21), who at just 5'7" has been dubbed the 'Magical Midget' by the national media. The nickname is by no means derogatory, in fact his small stature is often an advantage when he has the ball at his feet, weaving in and out of defences as if they were slalom poles.
"Elegance, intelligence, team spirit and fun" were all words used by Federal President Christian Wulff as he handed over the Order of Merit to the Germany squad for their exploits in South Africa. The age of German national teams being associated solely with hard work and running is now well and truly over, having been replaced by a generation of creative, hungry young players. And there are plenty more. Lewis Holtby, Andre Schurrle (both Mainz) and Mario Gotze (Borussia Dortmund) have all thrived on the Bundesliga scene this season to great acclaim.
"We're putting our faith in these young players. The amount of caps they have is not important, rather their quality. We're very impressed by the young players we have at the moment," explained Germany coach Joachim Low, who is determined to get his hands on a major trophy before his reign as Germany boss comes to an end.
"I think we can realistically aim for the [EURO 2012] title. The team is young, has a lot of potential and we have a great training staff behind us. In two years we'll have made yet more progress. It's our goal to bring the title to Germany," added confident young defender Badstuber.
Also not to be forgotten are established stars such as Lukas Podolski (25), Per Mertesacker (26) and the aforementioned Lahm and Schweinsteiger, each of whom have plenty of years left in their international tanks.
Germany's next chance at glory is of course UEFA EURO 2012 in Poland/Ukraine, before the land synonymous with the beautiful game, Brazil, hosts the next FIFA World Cup in 2014. Many of the players mentioned are likely to have become major international stars by then, if not before.