That team is Germany.
They bested all these other fools
So how did they do it?
Well they kicked off qualifying with a 3-0 walkover versus Faroe Islands, with Mario Götze's 28th minute strike starting the march towards Rio.
The rest of qualifying was similarly easy with only Sweden really testing them: first by stealing a point in Berlin and then by striking twice in the first half to take a lead...before Andre Schurrle's second half hat trick put Die Nationalelf ahead for good.
All told they brought down 28 points from 10 matches, and ceded 10 goals...3 of them to teams not named Sweden.
Fortunately, the Swedes couldn't get past Portugal which mean that when they had finally qualified they were pretty high on my list of contenders (in fact I had them losing the final to Argentina...so close)
But in December fate seemed to frown upon the Germans foisting them with this year's "Group of Death" (cue dramatic music). The Portuguese who had shot down the rival Swedes? In it. The Ghanaians who had bedeviled them four years before? In it. The Americans who had beaten Germany (albeit their B team) in a friendly the year before? In it. At the time it prompted a lot of conversations among my fellow hooligans. The best part of which might be this exchange with my old student teacher:
"Parcursed: US in a group with the best European team, their bogey team, and the best player in the world... See you all in 4+ years.Again I called for Argentina over Germany in the final, and again the Germans looked to be hard core, their build up to the trophy was impressive, and even though I gave in to the massive group think that we were building to Brazil V. Spain (Round 2), I knew they would be tough enough to make it to at least the quarterfinals--and that Benedikt Howdes would be brutal in defense (Sadly I was one round too early in my "injured Neymar" prediction.
Me: I 100% agree with my student-teacher (whose doing a great job of doing my real job while I'm home sick today). But the good news is, traditionally teams who emerge from the group of Death are the teams who compete for the title. (Including Italy when they topped the US and Ghana in 2006--so at least we'll lose to the best?)"
The group stage started with Thomas Muller featuring prominently both as goal scorer, and Portugal's least favorite man, as they crushed the Portugese 4-0 (causing Zlatan Ibrahimovic to shake his head and go back to kicking gum into his mouth). They had perhaps their worst match of the whole tournament in a narrow 2-2 draw with Ghana where the Black Stars looked the better side for long stretches. The final day dawned with a result needed against the US and dreams of match fixing in the press. It wasn't nearly that serious as Germany controlled and the Yanks looked bedraggled before a 1-0 win.
The knockout stages started with a surprisingly game Algeria, repeating much of the same athletic end-to-end pressure that Ghana used so effectively. Though a pair of late goals gave Die Mannschaft a better result, it was dangerous for a while.
Things were less dire versus the French in the quarters, as control and possession spelled the end for Les Blus. The blunted attack of Karim Benzema was just fine by the blunted attack of Miroslav Klose as they headed for the semis and the vaunted Brazilian side.
Well...maybe they shouldn't have been that vaunted. Instead 7-1 has all the makings of a national joke for decades to come. The superlative style of focused, ingenious attacking made fans around the world sit up and take notice--as well as several other football players look on in shock.
By the time the final came around, Germany looked the safer pick--even against the Argentine squad I'd been plumping over Germany for six months, and while Argentina looked strong in the first half, the gas ran out of Lionel Messi's legs in the second. Yet the Germans couldn't capitalize and while it looked for all the world like we'd be doomed to the pig-kissing penalty-kick shoot out, that was when Mario Götze came up big, delivering the final goal of Germany's campaign, just as he had delivered the first in Hannover 22 months before.
No question about it the Germans are champions and deserve to be them. They have the best league in the world and a relatively young squad that continue to improve. But will they be the dominant force in football for the next six years (as Spain was before them)? Not that likely: Sweden, Ghana and Algeria all had answers for them and may provide the model for how to dethrone the current kings. But until that happens, live it up Germany, now is the time for you to shine (and make huge chunks of money on the transfer market). Savor the sunset now, because who knows how quickly we'll say happy trails to you next time around.
(Okay, we probably will see you in the semi-finals AGAIN in Russia...but let us dream, okay?)