Germany approached the FIFA Confederations Cup 2005 with the stated aim of winning the trophy, and although the hosts fell short of that lofty goal, their new brand of exuberant attacking play sealed third place, infusing their supporters with optimism bordering on euphoria. A 4-3 triumph after extra time in the third place play-off against Mexico rounded off a more than satisfactory dress rehearsal for the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
"We've grown together as a team during this tournament, and we've drawn valuable conclusions," upbeat coach Jurgen Klinsmann declared. "Overall, we're hugely satisfied with our performances and the account we've given of ourselves," he continued, admitting his team was "still learning" ahead of the 2006 finals. "We have to remain patient. We're bound to make a few mistakes."
Klinsmann's side opened with a nervy 4-3 victory over Australia and a hard-earned if ultimately clear-cut 3-0 success against Tunisia, before going on to match both Argentina and Brazil for passing, movement and tactical flexibility in a 2-2 draw and a narrow 3-2 defeat respectively. The Germans will count themselves unlucky not to have made it to the final.
"We needn't worry about lagging miles behind. We're already on a par," Michael Ballack concluded. The German captain followed up an impressive season at Bayern Munich with an influential tournament for the national team, scoring four goals to claim the adidas Silver Shoe accolade as second-highest scorer behind Brazil's Adriano.
Despite Germany's continuing failure to beat a top ten footballing nation, Oliver Kahn expressed great satisfaction at his side's gutsy displays against the sides lying first and third in the world rankings. "I'm certain we'll beat the big names again soon - and it will be at the World Cup," the giant keeper predicted.
Germany scored 15 times in five matches to finish top of the tournament scoring charts. Emerging talents such as Lukas Podolski, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Per Mertesacker repaid the coach's faith in youth with immensely promising displays and the prospect of a bright future on the international stage.
For all the positives, the coaching staff can hardly overlook a number of glaring weaknesses. The Germans conceded ten times in their five matches, as a rearguard desperately short on experience at the highest level threatened to undo all the good work further up the field.
"We have to improve our entire tactical approach when we don't have the ball. We still have a great deal to learn," Klinsmann acknowledged. "But even if we're occasionally taking a step back, we're always taking two steps forward. We still have plenty of work to do, but we're fired up and determined to keep on improving. We want to grow, and we will grow."
Assistant coach Joachim Low shared his boss's assessment. "A year ago, we had the feeling we were a long way off. But we've climbed a long way up the ladder." The major remaining difference was the "individual class" embodied by superstars such as Ronaldinho, Adriano or Juan Riquelme.
Klinsmann and company's efforts have not gone unnoticed. Brazil legend Pele declared himself "surprised and impressed" at the progress made by the Germans. "It's a long time since I've seen a German team get the ball forward at such high pace. That's vital in modern football," declared the 64-year-old and three-time FIFA World Cup winner. "Obviously Germany are one of the favourites for next year's World Cup."