14
Aug

Bundesliga lowers drawbridge to castle before German Super Cup showpiece

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DORTMUND, Germany —

A few weeks ago, the Bundesliga invited FOX Sports to a two-night stay in the heart of Germany ahead of the German Super Cup. Having already booked my vacation in Germany for August just days earlier, I “sacrificed” myself for the good of the team. “Fine, boss, I’ll extend my stay in the country of my birth for two extra weeks. You totally owe me.”

After a brisk 14-hour journey from Los Angeles to Dusseldorf, I was greeted by our soon-to-be partners from the Bundesliga at the Hyatt Regency, a fancy hotel right on the Rhine. A couple hours later, we crossed a bridge over the Rhine for a nice dinner with former Germany internationals Jens Lehmann and Christoph Metzelder. Both played for Borussia Dortmund for several years and won a championship together in 2002, and here they were chatting with us for several hours over life lessons, cuisine and football.

Naturally, Lehmann commanded most of the table’s attention. He discussed at length the performance of goalkeepers at the World Cup and what made Manuel Neuer “the only truly world-class goalie today.” “The very best keepers,” he said, “they act, instead of react.” Anyone who saw Neuer play in Brazil this summer will know what Lehmann meant by this.

When I asked him to rate Tim Howard’s performance, Lehmann lauded the United States No. 1 for his record night against Belgium, but also said he was poor against Germany, blaming him for the lone goal of the match. Howard parried the shot straight to Thomas Muller — who buried the rebound — than out and to the side, he remembered. Tough critic, that man. Unsurprisingly, he’s an analyst right now for German television

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Lehmann also gladly recounted tales of his days with Arsenal’s “The Invincibles.” He did not, mind you, care to discuss the night he received a straight red card against Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League Final in 2006 with me, his perfect record in penalty shootouts, or Jurgen Klinsmann’s decision to drop Oliver Kahn in favor of him just weeks before the 2006 World Cup. “[Kahn] did not talk to me for four or five days after that,” Lehmann admitted with a sheepish smile.

And the fun didn’t stop there.

On Wednesday, I had an opportunity to meet, Christian Seifert, the longtime CEO of the Bundesliga, for a thorough presentation on what has made the German game so successful since the new millennium.

Seifert, as you would expect of a man in his position, was a remarkable speaker, with his heavy, amusing German accent shining through at times. Next to him on either side were the Bundesliga trophy — the “ugly salad bowl — and the FIFA World Cup. The real deals, in all their glory.

There were three main components to Seifert’s presentation; the Bundesliga’s ascendancy on the pitch, the economic stability of its clubs, and the extraordinary fan support and passion. They all combine to make the league as strong as it is today, he said.

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Several statistics jumped out at that may surprise some folks who don’t follow the league too much. For one, the Bundesliga’s recorded profit of €264 million in the 2012-13 season almost tripled that of the Premier League, which spends more than twice as much money on player salaries. A reason for this is German clubs rely much more on younger and cheaper homegrown talent — all part of the common strategy the clubs share with the German national team.

With an average attendance of over 43,500 fans per match, the Bundesliga is also the second-most attended sports league in the world, only behind the National Football League. And with 3.16 goals per game, it’s tops among the big five soccer leagues in Europe. These last two figures, specifically, explain why Seifert is so optimistic over the continued growth of his brand.  With FOX Sports securing its rights starting next season, there’s mutual excitement and an eagerness to work together to bring the Bundesliga to the mainstream American media.

After Seifert (and the trophies) posed for pictures, we were on to our next appointment. There was no time to waste as we had only several hours before the Wednesday’s German Super Cup final.

First, we stopped off at the BVB “Fan Welt,” a new, giant fan shop outside the stadium that we were told is “like the Amazon.com for Borussia Dormtund fans.” You could literally get everything there in black and yellow, including your own, personal BVB lawnmower. Yep.

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We then stopped by the BVB youth academy a couple of miles away, where club legend Lars Ricken greeted us. Ricken, who famously scored in Dortmund’s 1997 Champions League victory over Juventus on his very first touch of the bench, gave us a tour of the facilities, which included the revolutionary “Footbonaut,” a robot used to test player’s reaction time and pass accuracy.

Ricken demonstrated the amazing training tool for us. The robot itself is a cage consisting of several dozen squares and ball machines on all sides. Much like a pitching machine, balls are spit out at random and the player has only a split second to gather the ball and hit it at the square that lights up, also completely at random.

Finally, we made our way back to Signal Iduna Park to watch the German Super Cup between Dortmund and Bayern. We know how the match went by now — the hosts won the preseason fixture for a second year running by completely overpowering a Bayern Munich side that was still noticeably lacking in conditioning and pretty much every other department on the day. The Yellow Wall did it’s job, too. Chants of “Zieht den Bayern die Lederhosen aus!” (translation: Strip Bayern of their lederhosen) rang through the night, as well as the orchestra of whistles that serenaded Mario Goetze when he was substituted on in the second half.

After the match, our whole group returned back to the bus, exhausted but mostly thankful for such an incredible experience and two days of fun-filled events in the hotbed of German soccer.

Images provided by Thomas Hautmann / FOXSports.com

5
Aug

Bastian Schweinsteiger trolls Neymar in Ibiza

We see what you did there, Bastian, you sly dog, you!

While vacationing in Ibiza last week, injured Brazil star Neymar ran into Bastian Schweinsteiger during the German’s 30th birthday party and the two posed for a picture together.

In the pic, Neymar throws up a classic variation of the “hang loose” hand signal, while World Cup champion Schweinsteiger, possibly unbeknownst to Neymar, put up seven fingers - an obvious, shameless taunt invoking Germany’s infamous 7:1 semifinal win over the Selecao in Belo Horizonte.

We can only imagine Neymar’s reaction when he saw the photograph later …

H/T infobae.com

19
Jul

Artist has Gotze what it takes sketching Germany’s World Cup hero

His extra-time goal against Argentina in the World Cup final sent the German nation into a state of hysteria, and now artist Heather Rooney has immortalized the face of Mario Gotze in a sketch.

Similar to Germany’s performance in the final, it starts slowly, but comes good at the end.

What a work of art — not unlike Gotze’s goal to win the World Cup.

Heather has drawn several other famous footballers, and you can see more of her brilliant work here.

17
Jul

Mesut Ozil promises to pay for 23 childrens’ surgeries following World Cup win

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(Image: Getty)

German international Mesut Ozil won the World Cup just last week, but now he’s making inroads into winning our hearts.

Ozil initially pledged to pony up for 11 surgeries for children in Brazil prior to the World Cup, as part of the BigShoe campaign:

A generous gesture by itself, now Ozil’s pledge has more than doubled in size since winning the coveted World Cup. Instead of sponsoring 11 surgeries, the Arsenal standout will pay for operations for 23 kids — the same number of players in the German squad. Ozil explained the contribution Facebook:

dear fans,
prior to the #WorldCup I supported the surgery of eleven sick children. since the victory of the #WorldCup is not only due to eleven players but to our whole team, I will now raise the number to 23. this is my personal thank-you for the hospitality of the people of Brazil. #Bigshoe #Brasil2014

The World Cup truly does seem to bring out the best in people, and certainly did in Mesut Ozil’s case … a class player and a class person.

(h/t Dirty Tackle)

15
Jul

Per Mertesacker leads Germany’s World Cup stars in funky dance routine

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We already knew Per Mertesacker has moves like Jagger, so it’s no surprise that the Arsenal dance machine made a triumphant return at Germany’s World Cup victory parade.

The Gunners defender kicked off the celebrations in style by strutting his stuff down the green carpet, with the rest of his boy band backing him up with grace:

It should only be a matter of time before Mertesacker lands a spot on “Let’s Dance,” Germany’s version of “Dancing With the Stars.”

Thomas Muller on the other hand….

(Image: Reuters/ GIF: BVB Turkiye)

14
Jul

Germany’s Kramer can’t remember World Cup final after blow to the head

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A World Cup final is the type of game a player wants to remember every minute of. Unfortunately, Germany’s Christoph Kramer, who took a blow to the head yesterday in a collision with Argentina’s Ezequiel Garay, now says he can’t remember much of it at all.

Kramer took a blow to the face early, and then continued playing for 14 minutes before slumping to the ground. Kramer had to be carried off. (Gonzalo Higuain also took a blow to the head from the knee of German keeper Manuel Neuer in the game, but never seemed to lose consciousness.)

"I can’t really remember much of the game," Kramer told German newspaper Die Welt. 

"I don’t know anything at all about the first half. I thought later that I left the game immediately after the tackle. I have no idea how I got to the changing rooms. I don’t know anything else. In my head, the game starts from the second half."

Concussions are no joke. Post-concussion syndromes have been linked to dementia, depression and death. Lingering injuries from concussions have also ended a number of top players’ careers, including that of former USA forward Taylor Twellman.

FIFA has also been criticized for their handling of head injuries during this past tournament: Uruguay defender Alvaro Pereira appeared to be briefly knocked unconscious after a knee to the head, but demanded to be and was allowed to continue playing. 

Kramer’s incident — and his subsequent admission — will heap on more pressure for FIFA to allow independent concussion testing. One solution? Allowing teams to use a free substitute while the player in question is being evaluated. 

(h/t The Independent)

(Image: Getty)

12
Jul

Pope Francis, Benedict XVI will remain neutral in World Cup final

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With the World Cup final nearly upon us, supporters from the two teams that make up the fixture — Argentina and Germany — will be desperate for some divine intervention to see them to glory. Unfortunately, though, they won’t be able to call in any favors from two of the holiest men on the planet.

Pope Francis — who is Argentine — nor his predecessor, ex-German Pope Benedict XVI will be supporting their respective nations.

“Popes are above such things,” Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi said, via The Boston Globe. “They can only hope for the best team to win.”

Their decision to remain impartial may come as a shock to many, considering the first pontiff from Latin America is an avid soccer fan who roots for the Saints of San Lorenzo back in Buenos Aires. Since his election in March, Pope Francis has accumulated a growing collection of soccer jerseys tossed to him by fans at his public appearances.

Although neither is willing to side with either nation, the Pope is expected to catch the action, according to Roxana Alfieri, who worked with Pope Francis in Argentina.

“He will surely watch the match; I have no doubt about it,” Alfieri said. “He used to listen to San Lorenzo on the radio and enjoyed following all the big events on TV.”

(H/T NESN)

Photo provide by Getty Images. Information from The Associated Press was used in this post.