Germans look to 'spirit of the rubble' in defeat

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The Independent Online

Legend has it that on the day Germany capitulated in 1945, women crawled out of the cellars in Munich and set about clearing the mess with their bare hands. The "women of the rubble" have come to symbolise German resilience, and especially the collective ability to sweep away any past unpleasantness and start anew.

Now the "rubble spirit" is being invoked once more. "We must forget," declared "Kaiser" Franz Beckenbauer moments after the national team's worst defeat since 1954.

The dark mood in Munich was in sharp contrast to the atmosphere that greeted Sven Goran Eriksson's heroes as their airplane touched down in the small hours in Newcastle upon Tyne, where they will begin preparations for Wednesday's match against Albania.

After a summer of sporting disappointments in the British Lions rugby tour, the Ashes Test series and the World Athletics Championships, the feats of Saturday night meant that 11 Englishmen and a bespectacled Swede were already being placed on a pedestal. Bookmakers cut the odds on Mr Eriksson receiving an honorary knighthood by the year's end and talk turned to the prospect of a team achieving perfect harmony in time to win next summer's World Cup in Japan and Korea.

Meanwhile, the consensus forming in Germany was equally broad ­ their national team was awful because the current crop of German players is not particularly good.

Rudi Völler, the moustachioed manager who for a year was able to draw a discreet veil over the shortcomings of the German game, is not entirely off the hook. Like Eriksson, he has blended young talent into the ageing squad he had inherited. He chose on "Black Saturday" to keep many of his protegés on the bench but his attempts to imbue his players with confidence served only to infect them with arrogance.

"Rudi", as everyone calls him, is in no immediate danger of the sack. The tabloids will lay off, because the England game has already brought more drama than a manager can take. Rudi's father, Kurt, seated a few rows behind the bench, suffered a near-fatal heart attack shortly after England equalised. He was resuscitated and taken to hospital, but the news was deliberately kept from the manager until the final whistle.

Even without the sympathy factor, the manager is safe, because Germans recognise that no one could do better. As the Welt am Sonntag commented, with the limited talent on offer, "Rudi cannot perform a miracle". Manfred von Richthofen, a grandson of the Red Baron and President of the German Sports Federation, complained that the national team lacked "all German virtues" including a devotion to God.

Apart from the damage to the national psyche, the residents of Munich also woke to discover the aftermath of clashes between rival fans. Police arrested 165 hooligans in a series of fights in city bars before the match. As calm was restored to the city, six English fans remained in custody and police reported that they were "satisfied" with their containment of the trouble.

The significance of the result beyond the sporting arena was underlined by the contrasting political reverberations.

Newcastle fan Tony Blair sent a message of congratulations to Mr Eriksson and the England team for a "marvellous victory". And political analyst Lincoln Allison, of Warwick University, predicted the victory would provide a "feelgood factor" in Britain big enough to boost both the Government and the economy.

For the losers, the result has meant the reawakening of a debate about the country's integration of foreigners. Bavaria's conservative Prime Minister, Edmund Stoiber, risked accusations of playing the race card when he said that the domestic league "is kept alive by foreigners".

Football, like information technology, is short of suitably qualified natives in Germany. The glory of France's multi-racial team had already provoked searching questions about why the 7 million "foreigners" living in Germany are not represented in the national squad. In Gerald Asamoah, the midfielder born in Ghana, Germany has its first black player. The chances are there are more budding Asamoahs kicking the ball around in city parks who may be the best hope for the national team. Mr Stoiber may not approve, but the health of German football lies in immigrant ghettos.

This is a sensitive issue, but Germany will now address it, because, even more than the English, Germans hate to lose. The rubble clearing starts today as the squad prepares for its last qualifier.