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May 26, 2013

After CL title, Germany eyes '14 crown

FRANKFURT, Germany -- With Bayern Munich capturing the Champions League trophy over another Bundesliga club in a pulsating final, Germany's next ambition on the international football stage is to win the World Cup.

Bayern's fifth triumph had been 12 years in the waiting; Germany's last World Cup title was in 1990. Its last major title also came in Wembley, when it won the European Championship in 1996.

Germany's football has dramatically changed for the better since those days but Die Mannschaft, the national team, has finished its last four major tournaments empty-handed despite entertaining with its flowing, attacking game.

Now, with the football "Made in Germany" not only enthralling fans around the world but also producing winners and dominating club football, the nation will want the ultimate prize: the World Cup title in Brazil in 2014.

The formula looks simple: put together the stars of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, the team Bayern beat 2-1 in the final on Saturday, add the two Real Madrid midfielders Mesut Oezil and Sami Khedira, and you should have a national team -- and bench -- more than capable of winning the World Cup.

"The quality is high. This constellation gives our players enormous confidence for their job in the national team," Germany coach Joachim Loew said after watching the Wembley final.

Loew watched in Miami, where his rump side is preparing for friendlies against Ecuador and the United States. The Germans are using an understrength side because players from Munich, Dortmund and Madrid are unavailable. In Wembley, 11 Germany players were in the two starting lineups.

"It was nice to see what world-class players we have in Germany," Loew's assistant Hansi Flick commented, according to the DPA news agency.

Germany's revival began with the 2006 World Cup at home, but the team only managed a third-place finish after losing to Italy in the semifinals. Two years later, Spain beat Germany in the European Championship final. At the 2010 World Cup, Spain stopped Germany in the semifinal before winning the title.

Perhaps the most stinging defeat came last year at the Europeans, when Italy again stopped Germany in the semifinals.

A lot of soul-searching came after that defeat, with many Germans believing that the team was missing leaders with a winning mentality.

Bayern had lost two Champions League finals in three years and the doubters said players such as Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm did not have the mental toughness to win big matches.

They have have now shed that image and tasted success after one of the most remarkable seasons in the club's history. Bayern outclassed Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate in the semifinals. Dortmund knocked out Real Madrid.

"Of course, one notices, German football is on the rise," national team manager Oliver Bierhoff told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

"Naturally, our goal has to be the World Cup winner, we'll do everything to achieve that," said Bierhoff, whose goal gave Germany the 1996 Euro title.

Only a couple of months ago, Bierhoff caused minor consternation in Germany when he predicted that Germany virtually had no chance of winning in Brazil -- no European team had ever won the title in South America. "The pressure will be there, but we don't want to raise it ourselves," Bierhoff said in the latest interview.

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