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Rise of the Germans

Rio de Janeiro: You could hear them coming. The moment the dressing-room door opened, the din reverberated around the Maracana and, when they came into view, it was quite a scene: Manuel Neuer, Mesut Ozil, Andre Schurrle and assorted other young German footballers marching, bouncing, some of them swigging from champagne and beer, shouting at the top of their voices that they were the champions of the world.

For the rest of us, this most enjoyable party is over, with the people and the government of Brazil left to pick up that enormous tab, but for Germany, the World Cup celebrations have only just begun.

There was more singing and dancing at the post-match festivities in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday evening, at which most of them remained in full kit.

In the Champions League era, dreams of international glory do not always consume players as they once did, but this wonderful generation of German footballers, many of them drawn from an all-conquering Bayern Munich team, knew exactly what their 1-0 victory over Argentina signified. “It’s something special — not just for your career but for whole life,” Mats Hummels, the Borussia Dortmund defender, said.

Hummels’s career has been on a steep upward trajectory ever since he, along with Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Benedikt Howedes, Sami Khedira and Ozil, was part of the Germany team that beat England 4-0 to win the European Under-21 Championship in 2009.

Several of them played at the following year’s World Cup and so Ozil, for example, is a veteran of 62 caps by the age of 25 — and to think that some in England rave about the potential of “young Adam Lallana”, 26, who, whether as a late bloomer or a symptom of his country’s short-sightedness, won only a single under-21 cap.

Throw Kevin Grosskreutz, Toni Kroos, Thomas Muller and Schurrle into the mix, not to mention the absent Ilkay Gundogan and Marco Reus, and the talent — and maturity — that Germany can boast of in the early-to-mid-20s age group is extraordinary. Philipp Lahm, 30, and Bastian Schweinsteiger and Per Mertesacker, both 29, are older, but, Miroslav Klose apart, it is a squad that looks extremely well-equipped to build on this success at Euro 2016 in France, at the 2018 World Cup in Russia and, with Julian Draxler, Max Meyer, Timo Werner and others emerging, quite feasibly beyond.

“We have very good young players in Germany,” Hummels said. “Most of the team is about 25. I think we have six or seven of us who are 1988-born or 1989-born, so there is a big chance to stay successful in these next years, but of course it’s just a chance, not a guarantee.”

Schweinsteiger, who reserved his best performance of the tournament for the final, offered a similar appraisal: “You never know what happens in the future, but we are fit, we are hungry and we have some good players who are around 25,” the Bayern midfielder said. “This will give us more hunger, absolutely. We want to do it again at the next tournament. The important thing is that the young guys have the experience of this tournament.”

The vice-captain followed up with another interesting comment. “We have the quality, yes, we have quality players, but the most important thing is that we have the tradition in our game,” he said. “We have the mentality of the Germans, like the guys from 1990 in Rome . We can run, we can make pressure and we can defend. The mix between these things is the solution.”

If anything, this has looked a slightly less robust but more refined version. That previous World Cup-winning team from 24 years ago, built on a strong five-man defence and the power and dynamism of Lothar Matthaeus in central midfield, lacked the finesse, the sophistication and perhaps the tactical variety of this side. With Rudi Voller and Juergen Klinsmann, they were better off for centre forwards — the record-breaking Klose, at 36, finally looked his age on the international stage on Sunday — but Joachim Loew’s team seem to have a greater capacity for individual and collective improvement.

After leading West Germany to the 1990 title as coach, Franz Beckenbauer predicted that a soon-to-be-reunited Germany could prove unbeatable for years to come — perhaps overestimating the impact of players from the old East Germany, which provided only Kroos in this latest squad.

The revolution that has transformed the national team is that which happened after the nadir of Euro 2000, which led the DFB, the German Football Association, to reassess its approach to youth development every step of the way to the first team.

That overhaul reached its logical conclusion on Sunday evening at the Maracana, but, as Hummels said, it was a night that showed how precarious these things can be. Had Gonzalo Higuain, Lionel Messi and Rodrigo Palacio shown more composure in front of goal for Argentina, then the story would have been very different.

Knockout competitions are not always won by the best team, but on this occasion the World Cup ended up in the right hands — even if Argentina could claim to have been Germany’s equal on Sunday evening. Unlike Beckenbauer’s champions of 1990, Loew’s team are young enough to suggest that they will be even stronger by the time the next European Championship and World Cup come along.

“We will go to France and try to do it again, for sure,” Schweinsteiger said. “It’s not so easy, but I think we have some players who have a big future and I think the Spain team changed a little bit. We believe we are now the No 1 team in the world. We have to enjoy this moment and not talk about the future too much.”

Enjoy it, they most certainly will.