On a overcast afternoon with rain clouds forming overhead, three Bayern Munich fans crossed the short bridge over the Rheinlanddamm that leads towards Signal Iduna Park. Proudly dressed in Bayern strips with scarfs hanging round their necks, the trio walk gingerly towards the ground talking quietly as they look around for fellow Bayern supporters. They do so as they are significantly outnumbere by a factor of ten at least. A sea of yellow awaits them at the end of the bridge, fans of Borussia Dortmund gathering on masses for today’s German Super Cup final. It’s not surprising that the Bayern fans are outnumbered as the game is taking place in Dortmund at Borussia’s ground. The impressive Signal Iduna Park with its bright yellow pylons acting like a beacon in this industrial city drawing in the fans from near and far. Despite being outnumbered and on hostile territory, there is no cause for concern for the Bayern fans as both sets of supporters are looking forward to a good match between two of Germany’s biggest sides.
The Super Cup is the aperitif to the new Bundesliga season which kicks off in earnest in two weeks time. Like the English Community shield, the current league champions (Bayern) face the cup winners (Borussia Dortmund) for the first piece of silverware of the season in this showcase event. The difference between the Super Cup and the Community Shield however is that the managers in German all take this Cup seriously unlike their English based counterparts (Mourinho aside). Perhaps a rebrand of the Community Shield is needed to push life back into that stale trophy. Near the stadium, kids aged between five and fifteeen trained on artificial surfaces dressed all in Dortmund strips with the same ambition to become the next superstar off his already production line.
Dortmunds success at producing these kids is not the exception to the rule but the norm and is a reflection of the changes implemented by the German Federation and the Bundelsiga decades ago. Detailed brilliantly in Ralph Hogenstein’s book ‘Das Reboot’, this is one of the key reasons why German football is flourishing at all levels including the league itself which once again posted record profits for the twelfth year running. The Bundelsiga is living up to the worlds perception of Germany as a country of ruthless efficiency at scale. The Super Cup, which is run by the Bundesliga is its showcase and what a showcase, brilliantly organized like a well oiled machine highlighting just how good German football is and how far it has come.
The atmosphere inside the stadium is electric with 81,360 fans eagerly awaiting kickoff. The game itself lived up to the expectation with both sides starting at an elevated pace and soon the goals came. Midfielder Christian Pulisic, Americas next great hope took advantage of some sloppy defending to fire Dortmund into the lead within the first twelve minutes. That lead lasted only half that time with Robert Lewandowski poking the ball home after some good wing work by Kimmach. The goal was met with disbelief by the crowd who suspected that the cross came from an offside position but the Video Action Replay (VAR) which is being rolled out across all Bundelsiga matches this season confirmed that the goal was valid. After the equalizer, both sides dropped their tempo which to be fair was unsustainable over the remaining 70 minutes of the match. Only Ousmane Dembele continued with his energetic runs, repeatedly carving open a disorganized Bayern back line sadly missing the now retire Philip Lahm and demonstrating exactly why Barcelona are looking at him as a potential replacement for Neymar. MSD anyone?
After the half time interval, Borussia looked the more likely to take control of the match primarily because they were feeding off of the noise and energy coming from the Borussia fans standing as one giant yellow wall behind the Bayern goal in the Signal Iduna’s south stand. Safe standing has been a feature of this stadium for some time now and is the largest of its kind in Europe. It’s a welcome return to the football of old with stadiums across Europe forced to eradicate standing in favour of all seating in the early nineties following a series of tragic fatal accidents. But with clubs like Dortmund leading the way, other clubs including Scottish champions Celtic are trialing safe standing sections with a view to rolling it out further if successful. Despite both side having chances, it was Dortmund who eventually finally found the break through on the counter attack that saw Dembele break at speed again and set up Pierre Aubameyang who curled the ball past Ulreich with the outside of his right boot. It was an exsquiste finish that should have been good enough to win the match but with Bayern as opponents you cannot rest until that final whistle blows. And so it proved with Bayern scrambling home an equalizer with two minutes left to play. Scrappy yes but vital for Bayern as they now had the momentum going into the penalty shootout. From then on it was Bayerns to lose and despite a scare (Kimmach missing his penalty at 2-2), Bayern held their nerve to win the cup much to the disappointment of the home support.
As the fans exited the stadium either to celebrate or commiserate, the overall consensus was that it was an excellent game that acted as another feather in the growing German cap. With the World Cup in Russia next summer edging closer, a national team fresh off of winning the Confederation Cup at ease with its B side, a booming youth development production line and a league going from strength to strength under the tutelage of the Bundelsiga and German FA, its hard to not see success on the cards once again. German football is on a high, a brand growing in stature globally year over year with no real reason to suggest that will stop any time soon. And if the Super Cup is anything to go by, no one will want it to stop so best to hang on and enjoy the ride.