Deprived of a number of regulars, still smarting from missing out on the Final, and despite falling behind in the second half, a makeshift Germany showed enormous resolve and determination to defeat Uruguay 3-2 and claim third place at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. 'Character' was the word favoured afterwards by all parties.
"We can be very satisfied," Sami Khedira told FIFA. "There’s real unity in this team and we’ve shown great resolve, despite a number of setbacks and missing players."
In the days following the semi-final defeat by Spain, the Germany players made little secret of their disappointment at failing to reach the Final. However, the young team was challenged to put all that behind them, and also compensate for the absence of captain Philipp Lahm with flu, and the loss of potent marksman Miroslav Klose, denied the chance to pursue Ronaldo’s all-time scoring record at the FIFA World Cup by injury.
"We were utterly determined to win the last match,” continued Khedira, scorer of the winning goal in Port Elizabeth, "because third place is better than fourth, even if it has been tough getting fired up for the game. I’m just pleased I’ve contributed a goal to the cause."
Otherwise, the players agreed on the key factor separating the teams on the night. "Our team showed strength of character," goalkeeper Hans-Jorg Butt stated.
Cacau's verdict was: "We showed character after falling behind." Bastian Schweinsteiger, meanwhile, said: "We’ve turned the game round, and that shows real strength of character."
The Bayern Munich man, who again pulled the midfield strings for his side, laid on Thomas Muller’s opening goal, but made the mistake which led to Uruguay’s equaliser. "A team showing this much character deserves to finish third,” Schweinsteiger, captain for the night, added. "We played really well at times against opponents who defended aggressively, and we battled away when it was needed."
The three-time world champions rarely sparkled in front of a festival crowd at Nelson Mandela Bay/Port Elizabeth. However, Butt felt that was easily explained: "Especially in the second half, you could see both teams were playing their seventh game."
The benefit to the crowd and the watching millions on TV was a contest with chances at both ends. That the match had meaning was apparent from the broad smiles on German faces as the players slowly left the field with medals hanging from their necks. It was a moment for a joke or two among team-mates, and an embrace with coaches, physios and the entire backroom staff.
"I actually thought I’d know what it feels like to finish third, like we did four years ago. But in fact it’s another unique and very special experience,” Per Mertesacker told FIFA.com while still in the tunnel afterwards.
The South Americans were denied, just like a previous generation who lost the match for third place to the same opponents in 1970. "We played very well and we could have won it. We were better than Germany but they were just too efficient,” said La Celeste captain Diego Lugano.
Star striker Diego Forlan remained upbeat in defeat: "It's a real shame. We turned it round after going a goal behind, but you’re punished for every mistake at this level, and it’s cost us the match. But it's still fantastic that we’re one of the four best teams in the world. We were just one step away from achieving true greatness."