JOHANNESBURG » One by one, Germany is settling old scores.
First came England. Not only did the Germans beat their old rivals, they finally got payback for that goal-not-a-goal in 1966. Then it was pesky Argentina, in what’s fast becoming the World Cup’s version of Yankees-Red Sox.
Next up: Spain, the team that beat Germany in the European Championship final two years ago.
"We are not speaking of revenge," German coach Joachim Loew said. "That hasn’t been on my mind at all."
Keep telling yourself that, Jogi. But when the DVD of this World Cup is released, don’t be surprised if the subtitle is "Germany Gets Even."
Bitter rivals and grudge matches are part of what make sports so fun. Notre Dame-Purdue might be a good little game, but it’s not nearly as enthralling as that annual Irish throwdown with USC. Booing Brett Favre was considered heresy in Green Bay until he put on a purple jersey.
And all these German back stories have been almost as juicy as the games themselves.
It’s been more than 40 years, and the Germans are still nursing a grudge about Geoff Hurst’s just-over-the-line goal (or was it?) that helped England win its only title in 1966. Never mind that Germany got its revenge four years later, coming from behind to knock England out in the quarterfinals, or that it’s won two more titles since then.
Anytime it plays England it’s high drama, and the teams’ second-round matchup in South Africa was no exception.
Germany’s 4-1 rout, England’s worst loss at a World Cup, would have been satisfaction enough. But England was robbed of Frank Lampard’s goal late in the first half that would have tied the score and, possibly, changed the direction of the game.
"The goal was very important," England coach Fabio Capello said. "We could have played a different style."
2010 WORLD CUP
FIFA president Sepp Blatter later apologized to the English, but there was no mea culpa from the Germans. They’d already moved on to their latest squabble with the Argentines.
Argentina and Germany’s relationship has been testy since they traded World Cup titles in back-to-back finals in 1986 and ’90, and now it’s just downright ugly. After Germany eliminated Argentina on penalty kicks in the quarterfinals four years ago, the teams exchanged punches and kicks in a display so undignified it would have embarrassed even Don King.
The Germans managed to keep their hands and feet to themselves this time, yapping instead about Argentina being disrespectful hotheads. Argentina coach Diego Maradona claimed he wasn’t going to stoop to Germany’s level, but that didn’t stop him from mocking instigator Bastian Schweinsteiger, asking if the German midfielder was "nervous."
Apparently not, because the Germans dismantled the Argentines in their 4-0 victory in the quarterfinals Saturday, a thrashing so thorough it left Lionel Messi in tears.
For those keeping score, that’s Germany 2, Old Foes 0.
"I am just pleased that we are in the semifinals," Miroslav Klose said after the game. "That was our target."
And now there’s a new one: Spain.
The final score in the Euro 2008 final may only have been 1-0, but the game was far more lopsided than that. Spain outclassed Germany from the first touch, and never let up.
"We beat Germany two years ago and I don’t think they are happy to meet us again," Spain striker David Villa said. "But we have to forget about that game."
Don’t expect the Germans to.
It’s only been two years, but Germany is a far different—and better—team. Instead of the old, stodgy squad that plodded its way around the field, these Germans are playing with flash, flair and a seamless unison. They’ve scored four goals in three of their five games, and 13 overall—while allowing a measly two.
Perhaps most impressive is that it’s a bunch of kids running the German machine. The average age is under 25, making this the second-youngest team Germany has ever sent to a World Cup.
"Spain is still ruling supreme in Europe but, in terms of quality, I think we have improved, big time," Klose said Sunday. "A few years ago, people kept saying, ‘Isn’t it a shame there aren’t any new generations coming through? We’ve no forwards coming through, no creative midfielders coming through,’ and everybody deplored that.
"But time has proved these people wrong."
Schweinsteiger, one of the German "veterans" at the ripe old age of 25, agreed.
"We have different players now, while Spain is almost the same," he said. "Spain will be tougher than England or Argentina, but we’ve shown that we can be very good."
Carry a mean grudge, too.