Timo Werner excites as rampant Germany stroll towards World Cup
In recent years, Germany's qualifying campaigns have generally been as low on excitement as a daily commute to the office. You know precisely where you're going. You know for certain that you'll get there. And it doesn't really matter if some journeys are a little smoother and faster than others because the real work only starts once you arrive.
On the face of it, Monday's 6-0 cakewalk past a hopelessly inferior Norway wasn't really suited to generating much of a thrill either. The paucity of the opposition was all too apparent, for starters.
"They made for a welcome opponent. They played with four at the back whereas most sides line up with five or six in defence against us," Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Julian Draxler gratefully acknowledged about the visitors' polite refusal to park the bus. The result, an eighth win in as many games, will all be forgotten too by the time the World Cup holders officially book their starting berth for 2018's edition next month.
But somehow, the 52,000 spectators at the Stuttgart's Mercedes Benz Arena had much more fun than those mundane headline facts warranted. The Nationalmannschaft's fine attacking game and the crowd's visible determination to enjoy themselves turned the occasion into an unexpected late summer night's dream.
"A festival of football," Stuttgarter Zeitung called it, as well as "A crucially important evening for German football."
The game only partially explained that outpour of positive emotions. Yes: Germany, restored to their traditional 4-2-3-1 formation, came over the Norwegians like a blizzard. Their final third actions had pace, direction and imagination. If the hosts hadn't slowed down after the break, it could have well been double figures.
But there was much more to it, a couple of extra layers of meaning. Both the team and the supporters had taken Monday as an opportunity to get rid of the bad aftertaste that had lingered following the 2-1 win in Prague three days earlier, as a re-match if you will.
Joachim Low's side, by their own admission, had been eager to make up for a disappointing, disjointed showing against the Czech Republic, and the people in the stadium clearly wanted to show that they, not the couple of hundred Germans who had embarrassed the national team by chanting Nazi slogans and insulting RB Leipzig striker Timo Werner at the Eden Arena, were representative of the supporter base.
Their ostentatious goodwill in the "game of conciliation" (Kicker) even extended as far as Werner, arguably the Bundesliga's least popular player. The 21-year-old had his name chanted by the crowd shortly before half time, when he netted his second goal on the night. Past discretions -- his move from Stuttgart to Leipzig and a high-profile dive in a match against Schalke in December -- were forgotten and forgiven.
"I had goosebumps listening (to the chants)," former Stuttgart striker Mario Gomez (now at Wolfsburg) told reporters after the final whistle.
Werner had been mercilessly booed in previous months. A little under three weeks before the general election, Monday's "storm of love" (Süddeutsche Zeitung) in Swabia served as timely reminder of the Nationalmannschaft's unique unifying powers: when they're in action, tribalism is set aside.
"Tonight showed us how the beauty of football," Low said.
The 57-year-old has plenty of reasons to feel pleased right now. Making a winning combination out of the Confederations Cup, European Under-21 Championship and World Cup winners has proved a rather pleasant process so far.
The almighty tussle for starting places has led to much improved performances in comparison to the drab 2016 qualifying campaign without compromising the harmonious atmosphere in the camp. Low has so much quality at his disposal that he could easily field two starting XIs who could defend the title next summer and tactically, further experiments with 3-5-2 /3-4-3 formations will offer more flexibility.
In Sebastian Rudy and Emre Can, the Bundestrainer has two very different but equally capable options to bolster central midfield even further. Both have made rapid progress in recent months. The same can be said of centre-back Antonio Rudiger, whose development will undoubtedly benefit from Antonio Conte's guidance at Chelsea.
The single most important reason that warrants excitement, however, is Werner's emergence. He's a centre-forward of the type that Germany haven't had for decades: a proven finisher and poacher who's also very fast, technical and extremely useful on counterattacks.
Six goals in his first eight internationals tell their own story. He could well be the link that was missing at Euro 2016. Similar prowess in the Champions League and over the next round of internationals in October will go a long way to ensure the love that was in the air in Stuttgart will smell sweet for a little longer.
Raphael Honigstein is ESPN FC's German football expert and author of "Bring the Noise: The Jurgen Klopp Story." Follow: @honigstein