Astonishing as it may seem, the eagerly-awaited 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ semi-final between the tournament hosts and Germany in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday will only be the second time the two giants of the game have met at the World Cup. Their first encounter was the unforgettable Final at Korea/Japan 2002, when A Seleção triumphed 2-0 to win their fifth, and to date last, world title.
One member of the vanquished side in Yokohama that day was Dietmar Hamann, who played the full 90 minutes in midfield against Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and Co. Ahead of the next showdown between the countries, FIFA.com chatted to the 40-year-old, who earned 59 international caps and laced his boots for Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Manchester City among others.
FIFA.com: How do you feel when you see the yellow jersey of Brazil nowadays?
Dietmar Hamann: I’m very positive towards it actually. I like the Brazilian game and enjoy watching A Seleção. They’ve always been synonymous with attractive and entertaining football, even if at this World Cup I think they’ve played in a more European way, rather than in a South American style.
Does the defeat in the 2002 Final against Brazil still hurt?
We shouldn’t be talking about that game now. It was very hard to deal with the first few months after we lost, but I’d pretty much forgotten all about it two or three years later. Only rarely do I think about that match now.
On those occasions that you do reflect on the Final, what goes through your mind?
That we actually competed very well with them and we went close to winning. It was a shame for us that Michael Ballack was suspended for the match because he was in great form. I also think back to Ronaldo as he got both goals in the Final and finished as the tournament’s top scorer. He was in a fantastic team alongside Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Roberto Carlos and Cafu, but Ronaldo was the one who made the difference and was the best player for a number of years.
So you have no desire for revenge ahead of Tuesday’s game?
No I don’t. I’m just really looking forward to it and hopefully it’ll be a great match.
Brazil now need someone to stand up, shoulder the responsibility and fill in for him. I think Hulk is their best bet.
What differences are there between Germany’s team in 2002 and the present squad of players?
Back then we were a very efficient group that worked well together, but we had nowhere near the same kind of flair our lads have today. Our creative department consisted primarily of Bernd Schneider, and to a certain extent Torsten Frings, but he played at right-back. And that was it. Today we’ve got five or six players who can create chances: Mario Gotze, Mesut Ozil, Toni Kroos, Andre Schurrle, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Marco Reus, who unfortunately had to stay at home due to injury. We were a solid team with a decent defence and Oliver Kahn in goal. The only way we could win our games was by keep things tight at the back and maybe scoring one ourselves at the other end. Today they have enough quality to score four, five or six in a game if necessary.
So what has changed in the last 12 years?
Around ten years ago the German Football Association made a lot of changes to youth development and training centres and it seems to have been the right move because it appears to be paying off. We’ll have to wait and see whether it’ll last for another ten years though. That said, I have to say that in terms of quality this is probably the best German team we’ve had, and that’s despite Reus, Ilkay Gundogan and the Bender twins, Sven and Lars, being absent.
A fierce will to win and a strong fighting spirit used to be the defining characteristics of a Germany team. Does the present squad possess those same qualities?
In that respect they were excellent against France and looked like a solid unit. I was very impressed by our team, but that’s been the case a lot over the last six to eight years. They’ve had four opportunities to become world or European champions and they haven’t managed it yet. Now it’ll all depend on their mentality and their ability to hold their nerve. I think Germany are probably better prepared now than ever before.
It might be the best World Cup I can remember and it’s bound to get even better with the two great semi-finals coming up.
Do you think Germany have been at their best at this World Cup?
They can always play better but they dealt with the pressure well against Ghana and Algeria and dominated the match for 90 minutes against France, who had perhaps been the best team at the tournament up until the quarter-finals. Germany aren’t at 100 per cent just yet but Brazil haven’t been either. Germany are well prepared and have no reason to fear Brazil.
The hosts will also be without their talisman Neymar…
That’s a huge shame for him and the World Cup in general. Seeing the German players against Neymar would have been a fantastic battle. Brazil now need someone to stand up, shoulder the responsibility and fill in for him. I think Hulk is their best bet, but they’ll miss Neymar’s moments of magic. Now we’ll see whether or not their attack is still strong enough to cause Germany some problems.
If the tie were to go to penalties, Germany would surely fancy their chances of going through. Why are Germany so good in shoot-outs?
[Laughs] I have no idea! Of course any professional footballer should be able to score from the penalty spot but the psychological pressure of taking one in a decisive game during a major tournament changes the dynamic completely. Maybe we’re just better able to hold our nerve. You need to be absolutely ruthless and free of any emotion. You need to be able to shut everything out temporarily. Maybe we’re able to do that better than anyone else.
What has your overall impression of the World Cup been so far?
I’ve been very impressed. It’s been great to see the so-called smaller teams going into matches in order to win them, and not merely trying not to lose. They’ve definitely closed the gap on the bigger sides. I don’t think we’ll ever see an 8-0 victory at a World Cup again, like when we beat Saudi Arabia in our opening game at the 2002 finals. On top of that the attacking football being played has been fantastic and an incredible amount of goals have been scored already. Finally, I think the refereeing has been very good. It might be the best World Cup I can remember and it’s bound to get even better with the two great semi-finals coming up.