Germany coach Joachim Low had a problem ahead of his side’s must-win group match against Ghana at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. With his reliable goal machine Miroslav Klose unavailable through suspension, he had to find an able deputy. The man he turned to was the Brazilian-born Claudemir Jeronimo Barreto, better known as Cacau, a move that might well have confounded traditionalists and which would have been virtually unthinkable some 15 or 20 years earlier.

At first sight, given the distance between Germany and Brazil, the obvious cultural differences between the two countries and the fact that they are, after all, two of the most successful nations in world football, and you could be forgiven for thinking that Cacau is a pretty unique case.

Go back in time, to the start of the 20th century, however, and you will find that one of the biggest names in the Brazilian game at the time was the Hamburg-born Georg Paul Hermann Friese, who just happened to run out for a side called Sport Club Germania, the very club who years later would produce the first genuinely Brazilian football star: the Teutonically named Arthur Friedenreich.

Given that background information, Cacau’s case seems less unusual. His ascension to the Mannschaft ranks could even be interpreted as one footballing superpower repaying its debt to another. Taking that fascinating back story as its starting point, looks at the long-standing ties between Germany and Brazil on the football pitch, ties that run deeper than you might think.

The pioneers
German immigration to the country that will host the upcoming World Cup gathered in pace from 1810 onwards, a time when many other Europeans travelled to South America to start new lives. While the largest immigrant settlements in Brazil, which now has a population of 200 million people, are Hispanic in origin, it is home to a sizeable German community, particularly in the south of the country. German settlers were immediately attracted to that region by its pleasant climate and were also encouraged to put down roots and occupy the land, a strategic necessity in an area under constant threat of invasion by European powers and continental neighbours.

Initially basing themselves at Sao Leopoldo, in Vale dos Sinos in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, they fanned out to found towns such as Novo Hamburgo, Teutonia and Blumenau, which has its own Oktoberfest, welcoming more than 500,000 visitors a year. Another new name on the map was Pomerode, a small city in Santa Catarina in which most of the residents speak both Portuguese and Pomeranian – one of the dialects German immigrants brought to this part of the world – as well as Hunsruckisch, with new subdialects being created by further contact between different cultures.

Just as the Italians did in Sao Paulo, the German community had a fundamental role to play in introducing and popularising the sport of football in these towns and cities. Settlers came together to found their own clubs, among them Sport Club Rio Grande, which came into being on 19 July 1900. The oldest of Brazil’s football-only clubs, Rio Grande now play in the state second division and count on the support of fans with names such as Christian Moritz Minnemann and Richard Volkers, while the minutes of the institution’s board meetings are still written in German.

A Brazilian star is born
Sport Club Germania were founded further to the north, in Sao Paulo, the world’s most populous city. Though not exclusively a football club, they were another of the Brazilian game’s pioneers, taking part in the country’s first league championship in 1902. The Sao Paulo side proved the most suitable destination for the multi-talented Friese, who arrived in Brazil at the age of 21. A German 1500m champion, he played a number of sports but made his mark in football by top-scoring in the first few state championships, feats that led to him being described as “the most sensational player of all time” by the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo.

He was regarded as such until 1909, when, having by this time moved into coaching, he launched the career of Brazil’s first homegrown football star, Arthur Friedenreich, the black grandson of a German immigrant. According to the writer Luiz Carlos Duarte – the author of a book on the legendary player – Friedenreich’s grandfather left his homeland after the European Revolutions of 1848.

Nicknamed “The Tiger” by the Uruguayans, Friedenreich began his career at Germania and played for a number of clubs before retiring in 1935 at the age of 43. Germania would later be forced to change their name as a result of Brazil’s decision to side with the Allies in the second world war. President Getulio Vargas embarked on a policy of repressing any organisation with links to the Axis countries, with sports clubs among the main targets. Sao Paulo’s Palestra Italia subsequently became Palmeiras, while Germania were renamed Pinheiros, now a hugely successful outfit in other sports such as basketball, judo and swimming.

And while Friese and Friedenreich represented a more artistic style of football, the game played by Brazil’s southern clubs, who were greatly influenced by Argentinian and Uruguayan football, is recognised even today for its robustness and defensive organisation, though Ronaldinho has shown that there is far more to their football than that.

Switching sides
In a recent interview in FIFA Weekly, former Brazilian-born German striker Paulo Rink offered an ironic take on the difference between the type of football played in Rio Grande do Sul and the rest of Brazil: “I benefited disproportionately in Brazil from my powerful physique: I scored 70 per cent of my goals with headers. Interestingly enough, it was the opposite in Germany: I scored 70 per cent of my Bundesliga goals with my feet. So in other words, a battler in Brazil is a skilled finisher in Germany.”

Born in Curitiba, the capital of Parana state, Rink also comes from German stock: his great-grandfather came from Heidelberg. After coming to prominence with the upwardly mobile Atletico Paranaense he tried his luck in the Bundesliga, playing for Bayer Leverkusen between 1997 and 2001 and then turning out for Nuremberg and Energie Cottbus.

It was a time when German clubs regularly dipped into the Brazilian transfer market, with ultra-reliable performers such as Dunga and Jorginho blazing the trail for host of successful signings, among them Giovane Elber, Lucio, Juan, Ze Roberto, Emerson, Amoroso and, most recently, Dante. Making the switch a decade before Cacau, Rink was the first Brazilian to play for Germany, appearing at the FIFA Confederations Cup Mexico 1999, UEFA EURO 2000 and in a number of friendlies.

“I didn’t have to wait long for my first call-up,” said the ex-goalgetter, now a scout in Curitiba. “However, that meant I was confronted with a question of conscience: should I play for Germany? It would be a kick in the teeth for a few people in my home country of Brazil. It would also mean abandoning once and for all my childhood dream of playing for A Seleção at some point. There were a few sleepless nights. I followed my head rather than my heart, but I basically had nothing to lose. At the end of the day I was choosing between two top nations, and I think that helped most of the folk in Brazil understand my decision.”

In the same interview Rink recalled a readers’ survey conducted by the magazine Kicker after Germany’s early elimination at EURO 2000, according to which 78 percent of Mannschaft fans said he should be kept in the side for the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan. Unfortunately for the player, however, he did not make it to the Far East. As a result, he missed out on the chance to face Brazil in what was a historic Final, the first ever FIFA World Cup meeting between two superpowers who between them had appeared in every Final between 1954 and 1998, with the exception of 1978, when Argentina met the Netherlands for the biggest prize in football.

Filling the gap between Rink and Cacau was Kevin Kuranyi, who was born in Rio de Janeiro and holds Brazilian, German, Panamanian and Hungarian nationality. In his formative years Kuranyi played for Serrano FC in his native country and then two Panamanian clubs before moving to Stuttgart. After settling in Germany he represented his adopted country in a number of tournaments only to miss out on the 2006 world finals. The misfortune suffered by Rink and Kuranyi left the way open for Cacau to break new ground by making Low’s squad for South Africa 2010. And unlike his two forerunners, Cacau has no German ancestry.

Released by Palmeiras at the age of 16, he became a street vendor before getting an unexpected opportunity to make the big time. That chance came about when a friend living in Munich recommended him to Turk Gucu, a club playing in the Bavarian regional fifth division. Cacau made the move and overcame a number of barriers en route to finally breaking into the national team.

The player, who has accepted that his chances of making a second world finals are slim following a string of injuries, spoke recently to about his switch to Germany and what it means to be a dual national: “I arrived in Munich with a Brazilian mentality and it took a while before I acclimatised to my new environment. It was a completely new world for me. But basically I’m very proud about managing to combine elements of both cultures.”

Neatly summing up what it means to him to be both German and Brazilian, Cacau said: “Being relaxed and flexible is important to Brazilians. These attributes are very helpful in certain situations. The priority for the Germans is organisation. I’ve tried to take on board the positive sides of both mentalities. It’s the perfect blend in my opinion.”