Wed, 04 Aug 2021

By Oliver Trust

BERLIN, June 11 (Xinhua) -- While beer gardens reopen and daily life is gradually returning back to normal, enthusiasm for football only seems to growing slowly in Germany.

Ahead of the group opener next Tuesday evening in Munich against reigning world champions France, the country seems divided.

Some are happy about the pan-European tournament, with spectators returning to stadiums hoping for a revival of the so-called summer fairy-tale of 2006, when hundreds of thousands celebrated on the streets.

They hope football can trigger new optimism among the people.

Critics fear things could turn back to bad regarding COVID-19 infection numbers, and say the country is stuck with more important issues, such as fully reopening schools.

The challenges of a pan-European tournament played in 11 cities all over the continent doesn't seem the only difficulty for the German national team.

Approval rates for Die Mannschaft have decreased since the 2014 World Cup triumph in Brazil due to a poor performance four years later in Russia, followed by a failed rejuvenation process initiated by national coach Joachim Low.

Ahead of this summer's tournament, the 61-year-old announced his departure after 15 years in charge to make way for his successor, former Bayern Munich coach Hansi Flick.

Critics complain about professional football's increasing commercialization, and the German association having lost contact with fans and ordinary people.

TV viewing figures have declined in recent months, and the national team seems to have damaged its reputation and fans' trust.

National team manager Oliver Bierhoff was recently forced to defend the decision to pay out 400,000 Euros per player for winning the delayed 2020 European Championship.

"We are aware that's a significant payment, but as an association, I would be happy to pay in case we end up as the winner," Bierhoff said.

The former striker added the association has understood people's needs and concerns and is trying to create a better relationship between the fans and the team.

In 2021, people don't seem to party dressed in German shirts with their faces covered in the country's colors. Sales of flags and shirts dropped, and up to 75 percent of people surveyed by one poll said they wouldn't buy one this year.

Although a few TV sets were installed, public viewing isn't planned to take place as authorities fear hundreds could come together and forget about safety measures.

While bars and beer garden owners celebrate, the return to normal has given others mixed emotions. Restrained reactions seem to be grounded in the short-term decision to run the Euros despite the continent's ongoing problems to control the pandemic.

Authorities responsible for the Allianz Arena in Munich took their time to allow the return of fans and will accept 14,500 fans accompanied by strict hygiene protocols.

German fans seem to need to warm up to the return of football played by the national team while travel restrictions across Europe remain. Fans of clubs in the Bundesliga might eagerly wait for their return to cheer their heroes, but still seem suspicious regarding the national team.

The German team seems aware of the challenge to get people back on side. "The atmosphere in the squad couldn't be better. We can't wait to start and hope we can make people happy with our games. We are pleased about the return of fans in the arenas," national team returnee Thomas Muller said.

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