Germany have the look of Euro 2024 champions – just ask Antonio Rudiger

Henning Wehn, the German comedian, used to have a routine at his live shows that was probably quite apt given that it was his nation that invented the word ‘Schadenfreude’ – and has reminded us of that fact, in a football sense, many times.

If Wehn was on the comedy circuit in England, he had a replica World Cup that he would bring out on stage.

Every German had one, he would explain, before pointing out they had won it on four different occasions. And then he would hold out the trophy towards the people on the front row, teasing them, telling them to have a good look. Imagine what it feels like.

“This,” he’d say, “is the closest you will ever get to it.”

They could afford to rub it in during those long stretches when Germany’s footballers collected the big trophies at an almost unfeasible rate. Just check out the shirts they were wearing for their latest triumph in Euro 2024, beating Denmark to reach the Euro 2024 quarter-finals. We all know what those four stars symbolise above the crest for Deutscher Fussball-Bund.

If you are of a certain generation, you may also remember the years when Germany dominated the European Championship, too. No other nation can match their record of six finals, winning it three times. For Germany, it has been a source of considerable discomfort that none has come since Euro ’96.

Germany’s players salute their fans in Dortmund (Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images)

And now? Well, their win against Denmark was not a stress-free occasion, even ignoring the 24-minute interruption for the kind of biblical storm that Thor himself might have invoked.

But some of the great German sides rode their luck, too, if you go back through the years. It is a positive trait for a team with big ambitions and, though their opponents could be forgiven for feeling aggrieved, there is also a growing portfolio of evidence that the host nation have, to date, been the outstanding team of the tournament.

That verdict does not just come from the fact that Julian Nagelsmann’s side are the leading scorers, or that their four games have brought about a 10-2 tally in their favour.

They have been roared on by beery and boisterous crowds and, crucially, they seem to be revelling in being the host nation, with all the pressure and expectation that can bring.

In the process, it also feels like a new generation of heroes is emerging for the supporters whose banners inside the Westfalenstadion included a nostalgic one declaring “La Vida Lothar” – an adaptation of the old Ricky Martin hit, showing Lothar Matthaus hugging the World Cup in 1990.

Antonio Rudiger, for one. In the entire history of the German national team, has a defensive clearance ever been celebrated more enthusiastically than the one, in the final few minutes of their 2-0 win, that led to Rudiger’s fist-pumping euphoria from the rain-soaked turf?

In many ways, Rudiger epitomises a lot of the qualities that were evident in Germany’s most successful teams. He is tough – not just in the way he faces down opponents and uses his physical presence to try to obtain an advantage, but mentally, too.

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Antonio Rudiger was imperious (Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images)

He is affronted, absolutely affronted, by the idea that the other team might be impertinent enough to think they might actually win. He will stretch every sinew to make sure it simply cannot happen. And you wonder at times whether it is the fear of failure that fuels him as much as the joy of winning.

It is the kind of attitude that has made him a Champions League winner with Real Madrid, to go with all the trophies he won previously for Chelsea. And who, in Germany’s dressing room, could not feel inspired to witness this kind of prodigious effort from a player who had been restricted to only one training session during the week?

If you still want more evidence of Germany’s capabilities, there was the sight of Jamal Musiala scoring his third goal in four matches to demonstrate again that he can convert all his obvious talent into something with real substance.

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Jamal Musiala seals Germany’s win (Tobias Schwarz/AFP via Getty Images)

There was the sight of Kai Havertz taking a decisive role, just as he did many times for Arsenal last season. Havertz is not always an easy player to work out but, in good and bad, he has an extremely useful knack of making a telling contribution.

Leroy Sane is another who can thrill and frustrate, beguile and bewilder, but the overall package has created a forward line that could trouble any defence.

Then just consider the number of players – Ilkay Gundogan, Toni Kroos, Rudiger, to name but three – who can always be trusted by their manager to play, and flourish, at a certain level.



Ilkay Gundogan exclusive: ‘This team is what modern Germany should be about’

Add in Manuel Neuer and that quartet have, between them, exactly 200 caps. And, though we keep being told Neuer is no longer the elite performer that he once was, his speed off the goal-line to thwart Rasmus Hoijlund at 0-0 was crucial to this victory.

Yes, Denmark’s players were entitled to be aggrieved by that wild, eccentric period of play when two VAR decisions in quick succession turned the game upside down and gave Havertz the opportunity to score the opening goal from the penalty spot.

Joachim Andersen, in particular, may never forget the details given that they were his fingertips for the handball and the tragicomedy that, just a few minutes earlier, the poor guy had been celebrating a moment that he would have cherished for the rest of his life.

Unfortunately for Andersen, a team-mate had strayed offside and, even if it was only by a toenail, that is too much in the modern sport. Germany were let off the hook and Kasper Hjulmund, the Danish manager, held up his mobile phone an hour or so after the final whistle to show journalists the images of what, in his mind, was a gross injustice.

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Kasper Schmeichel, Denmark’s goalkeeper, called it “a mixture of disappointment, anger, rage” and it is true that Germany cannot pin their hopes of being this fortunate again.

But then again, many of us can remember Franz Beckenbauer, one of Germany’s bonafide football legends, talking of their Euro 2000 team playing “tired junk football, which at times turned into abuse of the ball.” That felt like a long time ago as Rudiger collected his man-of-the-match trophy and the current crop of players shared a love-in with a beery, boisterous and happy crowd.

(Top photo: Alex Gottschalk/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

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