2 German Triumphs

Germany’s players were still embracing on the field, some minutes away from lifting the Confederations Cup trophy, when the congratulatory messages started to pour in. They came from some of the country’s most famous, most decorated players, winners of the World Cup and the Champions League: Mesut Özil, Toni Kroos, Jérôme Boateng and a host of others.

Some, like Kroos, expressed their delight at Germany’s defeat of Chile in St. Petersburg — victory in the country’s first appearance in what may yet be the last iteration of this tournament — without words, communicating their happiness instead exclusively through emojis.

Other players were only a little more garrulous. “How great is that?” asked Mats Hummels. “What a triumph, what a squad,” said Ilkay Gundogan. Thomas Müller advised his countrymen, presumably based on his own experiences, to make sure they “have fun while celebrating.”

None of those players were on the field in Russia, waiting to take to the podium. Like Manuel Neuer, Sami Khedira, Marco Reus, Julian Weigl, André Schürrle and many others, they had not been included in Joachim Löw’s squad for the competition. They were all watching, from home or from holiday, as their country proved its soccer resources run so deep, so wide, that it can triumph without them.

As Löw was quick to point out as he reflected on Germany’s victory, winning the Confederations Cup, even with “such a young side,” does not mean that the Germans, the current World Cup champions, are certain to retain their crown when they return to Russia next summer. Nor does the European Championship won by its under-21 team last week in Poland mean that Germany can be assured of success in the senior continental tournaments in 2020 or 2024.

Major competitions do not subscribe to such straightforward logic. In the international game, more so even than at club level, tournament soccer is more complex, more chaotic than that.

In the concentrated, intense span of a World Cup or a continental championship, the fleeting and the unforeseen take on an outsize significance. One bad game, after all, is all it takes, and years of preparation can be wasted.

A raft of injuries, or poor form, might take hold. A referee — even one with a video monitor — might make a mistake. A rival — Brazil or Argentina, Italy or France — might build a momentum so impressive it takes on the air of destiny. The best team in the world does not always win the World Cup; the best team in the world that month ordinarily does.

Whether Germany wins twice on Russian soil in two years, though — and it is worth noting both that no winner of the Confederations Cup has ever won the subsequent World Cup, and that a World Cup winner has never repeated since Brazil in 1962 — should not detract from the broader pattern its latest gilded summer has brought to the surface.