Dylan Cleaver on sport
Sport analysis and comment from Dylan Cleaver

Dylan Cleaver: Cheering for the Germans? Nein!


By the time you reach a certain vintage you've dealt with most of life's big challenges, from student loans and the death of a parent through to ingrown toenails.

But when you think you're prepared for just about anything this world can throw at you, something comes along that threatens your equilibrium. That something could be about to happen.

The Netherlands and Germany are hurtling towards a July 12 meeting at Soccer City and here's the thing: if there's any justice in the round-ball world, Germany will win.

It is not set in stone, but the Dutch will be heavily favoured to beat Uru, the last remaining wise Guay. Spain, quarter-final vanquishers of Uru's mate Para, have the elan but maybe not the cutting edge to match Germany.

You read that right. The Germans have style. They have shed the cliche of ruthless efficiency and pragmatism, of being little more than penalty shootout kings, by playing an intoxicating brand of pass-and-run soccer.

Unsullied midfield stars Thomas Mueller and Mesut Ozil represent Germany's most remarkable youth programme since ... no, we won't go there, while Bastian Schweinsteiger, unstoppable against Argentina, has emerged as the most influential player in South Africa.

On the other hand, watching this Netherlands team has been like an art lover walking into the Louvre and finding some punk has pencilled a moustache on the Mona Lisa.

Take away the orange shirt and this Netherlands team has nothing on its predecessors - Rinus Michels, the architect of "total football", must be doing Cryuff-turns in his grave.

The country that produced Johan Cryuff, Rudi Krol, Johnny Rep, Johan Neeskens, Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten now spits out Dirk Kuyt, Mark van Bommel and the snivelling little Arjen Robben, a man-child so unsteady on his feet and of such low pain threshold that if he were a horse he'd be taken out back and shot.

This Dutch team is not lacking in skill, but, with Robben diving and whining and van Bommel kicking everything that moves including, but not exclusive to, the ball, they are lacking in class.

This is where it all gets so confusing for the "neutral" like myself, because neutrality has only ever been fun when it has allowed you to side with the Dutch. The Dutch are colourful, they are fun, they are good. The Germans are monochrome, they are unsmiling, they are bad.

There's no point pretending, either, that World War II has been forgotten.

In Simon Kuper's "Football is war" essay, part of his acclaimed Football Against the Enemy, he writes of the days following the Netherlands' breakthrough 2-1 win over West Germany in the semifinal of the 1988 European Championships in Hamburg.

It was true that the Dutch, particularly those who had been, or had relatives in, the Resistance, did not particularly like the Germans, but until that night it had never really permeated through to soccer the way it does with the English.

After the final whistle in Hamburg, though, more Dutch took to the streets in celebration than on any night since the Liberation. In Amsterdam they threw their bikes in the air and chanted "We've got our bicycles back" in reference to the German confiscation during the war. Another chant that starts, "In 1940 they came/ In 1988 we came" left even less to the imagination.

It didn't help that while European society was changing so dramatically in the 1980s, the Germans still managed to look so damn Aryan.

The Netherlands were cool, though. They had become cosmopolitan, reflecting the influx of migrants from Suriname in particular, with Gullit, Frank Rijkaard, Edgar Davids and Clarence Seedorf parking themselves so comfortably among all the Vans.

Such stereotypes no longer hold.

Of Germany's five strikers, two are Polish (Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski), one is Brazilian (Cacau) and one has a Spanish father (Mario Gomez). Midfielders Ozil and Sami Khedira are of Turkish and Tunisian extraction respectively. Marko Marin is a Bosnian Serb and Piotr Trochowski is Polish. Defender Dennis Aogo has a Nigerian father, Jerome Boateng is Ghanaian and Serdar Tasci is Turkish. The days of Schumacher to Stielike to Breitner to Briegel to Rummenigge are long gone.

Compare, too, the European giants' quarter-final defeats of the South American behemoths.

The Netherlands could not match even a watered-down Brazil for pace and sophistication so they chased, harried and goaded them into errors, twice scoring on set pieces. Brazil midfielder Felipe Melo had an unhappy night, but it could be argued he deserved a medal, not a red card, for stamping on Robben.

Germany under dynamic and well-groomed coach Joachim Loew sliced and diced Argentina in a way that was not just emphatic, it was artful.

Germany, from a purely footballing perspective, are impossible to dislike.

But sometimes that is not enough.

When the cheese on toast pops out of the oven at 6.30am next Monday morning, if it works out that there's one team in Orange and another in White, I'm taking the Orange.

There's no logic in sport, just an equilibrium that must be maintained.


Tour de France, nightly, Sky Sport. A travel show on wheels. The TdF is about as beautiful as sport gets as it passes through one postcard and on to the next, while its myriad tactics and strategies read like a well-paced thriller. Shame about all that doping and stuff.


The Warriors are as fashionable as fondue, but they are quietly stacking up a few results, pushing themselves into the play-off positions in the process. It's too early to celebrate by dunking a chunk of crusty loaf into a pot of melted emmental, but hats off to Ivan Cleary who, with a thin smattering of talent at his disposal, is showing off his coaching chops.

A nod in the direction of the Magic, too, who have found the right potion at just the right time.

- NZ Herald

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