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9.06.2021Bayer 04

Bernd Schneider: Semi-final 'almost obligatory'

What an honour: Exactly 15 years ago on 9 June 2006, Bernd Schneider led out Germany in the World Cup opening match against Costa Rica at the Allianz Arena in Munich. In an interview with bayer04.de, our honorary captain not only talks about magical moments in the ‘summer fairy tale’. 'Schnix', who played 81 times for Germany and was a World Cup runner-up in 2002 under coach Rudi Völler, also shares his view of the forthcoming Euros and Germany's chances.
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Bernd, if you think back to the 2006 World Cup: What do you particularly remember about the first match against the underdog from Central America?
Schneider: I felt an incredible sense of anticipation ahead of the tournament. You don't often play a World Cup in your own country. At the same time, we had been through a difficult year as a national team. One low point was the 4-1 defeat in Italy in March 2006. Nobody knew where we were really up to. Nevertheless, the only question ahead of our opening match was how many goals we would score against Costa Rica. But they had a really good team. Of course, we knew we had to win the game at all costs. There was a massive euphoria around our team but we were also very focused on the match.

You led Germany out as captain because the usual skipper Michael Ballack was not one hundred per cent fit after a calf injury. How did you feel ahead of the kick-off in the mixed zone at the Allianz Arena?
Schneider: I thought it was a great pity that Michael couldn't play because we were friends at the time and still are today. I felt sorry for him. But, of course, I was happy to be able to captain the team in this first World Cup match. Nevertheless, I wasn't more excited because I'd already worn the armband in previous matches. So it wasn't such a big thing for me. I just wanted – and the others felt it too – to get on the pitch.

The 4-2 win was the start of the summer fairy tale. How did the atmosphere in the country affect you?
Schneider: It was a fantastic summer. At the start, you felt certain reticence amongst the fans and the people in the cities. But then euphoria developed with every match, which was simply great and took us players with it. Cars on the streets, the houses and gardens – you saw black, red and gold flags, banners and scarves everywhere. The weather played its part and there hadn’t been a summer like that in a long time in Germany. When we drove to the Olympic Stadium in Berlin on the team bus after the quarter-final victory against Argentina, Bundeswehr soldiers were doing the Mexican wave along the side of the road. Grannies and grandads were waving Germany flags from their balconies. It was just brilliant. We soaked it all in and obviously wanted to give something back on the pitch as a team. But you have to say: The pressure on the players was enormous. So, of course, we had to deliver.

Which of the game after the opening match do like to remember?
Schneider: The very next one: The 1-0 against Poland in Dortmund, where Oli Neuville scored the winner in added time, was full of incredible tension. Of course, I'll never forget the penalty shootout against Argentina in the quarter-finals. There was great disappointment after the 2-0 defeat in the semi-final against Italy but by us finishing third we had achieved an incredible amount given our potential.

Jogi Löw was the assistant coach to Jürgen Klinsmann. The latter was seen as the great motivator, Löw as the man for tactical details. Was it really like that?
Schneider: I think you can say that to a certain extent. At the same time, those two areas obviously weren't exclusive. I think the two of them complemented each other brilliantly and also worked well as a coaching team.

It was the first big tournament as a coach for Löw. Now he faces his last 15 years later. What do you think he and the German team are capable of at the forthcoming European Championship?
Schneider: From a sporting perspective, you can see parallels with our situation in 2006. We weren't playing brilliant football back then ahead of the World Cup. But I believe there is less expectation today than there was back then. But that doesn't necessarily mean much. The current Germany team is also capable of doing very well. If you look at the side: Four of our international players were in the Champions League final and three of them on the winning team. A lot of the others have international experience with their clubs. I don't think we are amongst the top favourites, definitely not in the top three but the team does have a lot of quality. And if they have the right mentality on the pitch then they can compete for the title. If they get through the difficult group with France, Portugal and Hungary then reaching the semi-finals is almost obligatory. I wouldn't begrudge Jogi Löw winning the title at all. It would be the culmination of his coaching career. He's achieved everything except for winning the European Championship.

Who are your top three favourites?
Schneider: France, Spain and England. I count Germany, the Netherlands and Italy as the next group. And perhaps there will be a surprise team, possibly Switzerland or Belgium. I'd normally count Portugal amongst the favourites but I think France and Germany will go through in Group F.

Due to the coronavirus, the Allianz Arena in Munich will not be sold out for the opening match against the World Cup winners France – unlike the game against Costa Rica in 2006. Nevertheless, there will be 14,000 spectators.
Schneider: And that support is extremely important for the players. It helps a lot and definitely gives the team a boost. 

For the first time in a long while there are no current Bayer 04 players in the Germany squad at a tournament…
Schneider: Yes, I noticed that recently. I would have been happy if a Leverkusen player was there. But you have to accept the decisions of the national coach. There are two former Bayer 04 players in the squad with Kai Havertz and Kevin Volland who were at Leverkusen a year ago.

Will you be at any of the games?
Schneider: No, I'll watch our lads on TV with my fingers crossed along with a couple of friends and we’ll wave the flag...

Your tip for the first group match against World Cup winners France on 15 June?
Schneider: 2-1 to Germany.

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