The 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ marked another milestone in a long transformation in German football, a process which has only accelerated since then. Creativity, attractive passing and a focus on attack are the hallmarks of a new generation now seeking to make history under the guidance of Joachim Low. The immediate target is no less than winning next summer's UEFA EURO 2012, for which Germany can seal a direct qualifying berth by beating Austria in Gelsenkirchen tomorrow evening.
Such is the confidence in the Nationalelf camp at present, the continental showdown in Poland and Ukraine is regarded as only a step on the way to the biggest prize in world football, as Philipp Lahm, Mezut Ozil and company are plotting to topple Spain as world champions at Brazil 2014. At the Preliminary Draw in Rio de Janeiro a few weeks ago, Germany team manager Oliver Bierhoff gave FIFA.com an intriguing insight into the squad's current thinking.
FIFA.com: Oliver, we last interviewed you around 18 months ago, when we were together at the Final Draw for South Africa 2010 in Cape Town. How would you rate Germany's progress in the meantime?
Oliver Bierhoff: Our development has been totally positive, especially with such a young team. Before the finals in 2010, we weren't sure where we stood, due to our general lack of experience and the loss of Michael Ballack to injury. The most striking thing, even more than the fact we finished third, was what the world saw from a German team. We were a truly functioning unit, and we played creative and attractive football.
We've developed a style of our own, and the idea is to replace the Spanish, not copy them. You could describe our style as a little more dynamic.
The team has been largely rebuilt and has a new look. Is this genuinely a new Germany?
Teams generally reflect the society they're drawn from. That's something we see over and over again, especially in football. The way we operate is a model of practical integration. Our junior national teams feature increasing numbers of kids from immigrant backgrounds, but who have grown up in Germany. Their roots are elsewhere, but they feel German. They draw on two cultures, and I believe that's been a real and visible factor in the football we've been playing. In my opinion, one of the best and abiding images was Cacau, a Christian with Brazilian roots, celebrating a goal with Mezut Ozil, a Muslim from a Turkish background. Ozil jumped on to Cacau's shoulders, and they gazed up into the stands, both wearing Germany shirts. It was wonderfully symbolic.
Do Germany boast any world-class players?
We'll be getting a couple, and I'm sticking by that statement. I also always evaluate a player in terms of his club. The German Bundesliga has become incredibly strong, naturally led off by Bayern Munich, who are currently supplying a large block of players to the national team. But when you see Ozil and [Sami] Khedira head off for Real Madrid and become regulars there, it shows you how good they are. We have a number of young players who could become world-class stars, and we also have Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm of course. So what we need now is a trophy. That's what makes you a global star. Just think of Ronaldo or Zinedine Zidane - they won major international honours with their national teams or clubs.
Which brings us neatly on to the next question: why might Germany win EURO 2012?
Because the core of the team is still together, and has been enhanced by new, young players with excellent prospects: Mario Goetze for example. The team has matured and we've also undergone a change in mentality. I believe our players won't be satisfied with third place from now on.
There are just under three years until the 2014 FIFA World Cup. What are your first impressions here in Rio de Janeiro?
Everyone's already looking forward to Brazil. You sense that everyone lives and breathes football here. The warmth and passion of the Brazilians is wonderful.
Can Germany win the FIFA World Cup next time out?
I'd like us to follow a similar development curve to Spain, by which I mean that a team grows together over a period of years and becomes a tight unit. I do believe Germany will again be among the favourites in 2014.
The media are making frequent comparisons between Spain and Germany at present. Are you planning to copy the reigning European and world champions?
We've developed a style of our own, and the idea is to replace the Spanish, not copy them. That would be a false move and arguably the wrong solution, because Spain simply boast such fantastic footballers. You could describe our style as a little more dynamic, based less on long spells in possession, and more on rapid switching from defence to attack and an aggressive approach.