World Cup fever grips Germany with fourth title in reach

BERLIN - Germans saw a fourth World Cup title tantalisingly within their grasp Sunday, with millions set to flood the streets in support of the country's beloved Mannschaft in its showdown with Argentina.

It would be the first title for Germany since the country's joyous unification in 1990, and come as the nation celebrates a quarter century since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Still giddy from the German side's huge 7-1 thrashing of Brazil in Tuesday's semi-final, up to 200,000 supporters will be packing Berlin's giant Fan Mile behind the Brandenburg Gate, with millions more huddled in front of screens in beer gardens, bars, sports clubs and sitting rooms throughout the country.

A record 32.6 million television viewers watched Germany's take-down of Brazil and even more are expected to follow the final at Rio's legendary Maracana stadium.

Among the supporters at the venue itself will be Chancellor Angela Merkel, who flew to Brazil with German President Joachim Gauck and several senior politicians hoping to bask in the reflected glory of Joachim Loew's side.

Merkel hailed Germany's "great team" in an interview with ZDF public television, but warned victory would "not be easy".

"Everyone thinks after the 7-1 that we're almost there. That is why we all have to cross our fingers again because Argentina is also going to give its all," said Merkel, who also attended the Germans' 4-0 trouncing of Portugal at the start of the tournament.

Commentators said the stars might just be aligned for Germany to join the elite club of winners with at least four titles: Brazil and Italy.

The top-selling Bild declared all of Germany's "80.8 million hearts are beating for you" on its front page, noting that West Germany had pulled off its last World Cup victory against Argentina 24 years ago.

 'Chill the bubbly'

News website Spiegel Online trumpeted: "Chill the bubbly, take Monday off: Germany will be the champions, celebrating is allowed".

It listed seven reasons to be bullish about the match, including the Germans' fighting form and experience.

But it played it safe, publishing a parallel list of seven reasons why Argentina would bring home the trophy, including its impressive balance of defence and offence, the Europeans' losing record in South American World Cups and, quite simply, Lionel Messi.

Berlin's daily Tagesspiegel said the Germans were running on the momentum of the head-spinning rout of Brazil in the semi-final, which it compared to "an unannounced moon landing".

Its commentator Harald Martenstein said that along with Christianity, Judaism and Islam, Germans also worshipped the "football god".

"And at some point the football god must appear to us," he wrote in a tongue-in-cheek column. "Was that it during the 7-1 match against Brazil? Tonight we'll know more." The B.Z. tabloid also turned to religion for its headline: "You have the pope, but we have the football gods!" in a reference to the Argentine pontiff.

In a country in which national pride is still clouded by its militaristic past, Germans have long channelled a sense of patriotism through their national football team.

German flags are normally a rare sight in the country but black, red and gold were out in force at the weekend, decorating cars, balconies and bicycle-seat covers, on face paint and nail varnish.

Supermarkets in the capital even got playful with the national colours, with special packages of blackberries, strawberries and pineapple for sale and black eggplants piled next to red tomatoes and golden bananas.

News weekly Der Spiegel noted the sense of exuberance in a country long burdened by its bloody history and published a cover story on how the Germans' self image has evolved since it hosted the World Cup in 2006.

"The World Cup is ending and again the world has experienced a German Mannschaft that has played with ease, maturity and sometimes even with elegance," it said.

"These weeks... showed another Germany, an open, optimistic country."