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Netzer: "Germany is the Top Favorite!"

In an interview, the Volkswagen soccer ambassador explains why he believes the German team will defend the title at the World Cup in Russia, why he is not expecting any surprises in such a huge tournament, and what his wife has to say about it when he is watching on the television back home.


Mr. Netzer, the Volkswagen brand employs people from almost every country. Who has the best chances of celebrating a World Cup win in mid-July?
German employees can get their hopes up for the World Cup. The constant hard work by Joachim Löw, the German soccer coach, will pay off. We have always had a good team. However, it used to consist of only 12 or 13 good players. You couldn’t have any injuries or red cards. Now we have more than two teams almost equal in value. We have excellent substitutes who can jump in at any time. That’s a big advantage in a long tournament like the World Cup. From that perspective, the German team is one of my top favorites.

That’s probably not what our colleagues in 
the rest of the world want to hear ...
(laughs) Well, hopefully they can handle a prediction from a so-called expert like me.

What about Brazil? The record world champions played a convincing qualifier after their spectacular knock-out in the 2014 World Cup – when they lost to Germany 7:1.
The country has not forgotten its defeat in the semi-final of its home World Cup. It has been burned into its collective history. Its people are expecting reparations. I consider that entirely possible.

Meanwhile, many of our colleagues in Spain are taking it for granted that their team will win the title...
The enthusiasm in Spain is absolutelyjustified. The 2010 world champions hold a well-deserved place among the favorites for this year.

Which player has what it takes to make their mark on the tournament?
All the usual suspects. Personally, I admire Lionel Messi, who has been playing at the very limit of possibility for a decade, perhaps even beyond it. But: he can’t swing it on his own. Messi may have very, very good players on his side, but they are not best suited to one another. That’s why I don’t believe they will get it in the bag.

Günter Netzer wore the jersey of the ­German national soccer team 37 times. His long hair was his trademark.

Which team do you think might surprise you in the World Cup?
To be honest, it’s very rare that there are any surprises in big tournaments. I can only remember the European championship in Portugal 2004, when Greece won the title. No one who knows anything about soccer would have thought it possible at the time.

But surely you have a secret favorite?
To be honest, the term "secret favorite" is not a very useful one. Teams don’t just appear out of nowhere like a phoenix from the ashes in tournaments like this. Ultimately, it’s about continuity. And no team has as much of that as Germany. I can’t wait to see what France has in store; they have a good team. But it remains to be seen how the team will fare in such a big tournament. That’s because it’s a whole different story when you are together for several weeks, compared with meeting for one or two 
qualifying games.

A line-up of good players is not enough on its own to win the title. 
What does it take to win the World Cup?
You need an intact team spirit. We had that during the 1974 tournament. In the preliminary round, before it really got going, Franz Beckenbauer held a fiery pep talk and slammed his hands on the table – from then on we were a different team. And, to be completely honest, in the pivotal moment you need a little luck. There is not a single team that plays phenomenally from start to finish in such a long tournament.

GÜNTER NETZER (73)

is a former German professional soccer player. The gifted midfielder wore the jersey of Borussia Mönchengladbach for ten years (1963 to 1973), before switching to Real Madrid for three years. He then finished his professional career at Grasshopper Club Zurich. He became European champion with the German team in 1972 and world champion in 
1974. After his career as a soccer player, Netzer became a manager, media entrepreneur and TV expert.

How will you follow the World Cup 
in Russia?
Totally relaxed at home. I’m pleased not to have any commitments as a news­paper columnist or TV expert during this year’s tournament.

Are you a real fan in front of the tele­vision?
I’m more of a calm spectator. When I watch with my wife, she always complains that I don’t show any excitement. "We’re not at the opera," she 
always says. But I always think things through when I’m watching. When the German team plays, then I am a bit more emotional. But I never forget to view the performance objectively and realistically.

The World Cup in Russia will be the first big tournament to use instant replay. How do you feel about this technology?
I have always said that I view instant replay skeptically, even if it results in more fairness. Even so, it’s important to retain the emotional aspect. Part of the experience is talking about the match during the week, and, if in doubt, about the referee, too. It keeps the enthusiasm going. In the Bundesliga, instant replay was already used this season. To be completely honest, I wasn’t 100-percent convinced. I would like it if the viewers were more involved in the decision.