BERLIN (AP) — Germany has come a long way since the national team last appeared in a World Cup final 12 years ago — and so has the team's image at home.
In 2002, an efficient but limited Germany joylessly ground its way through a weak draw to muted celebrations, before losing to Brazil in the final.
"It was the last time that a German World Cup team matched the picture the world has of us," the weekly Der Spiegel wrote this week.
Things could hardly be more different as Germany, fresh from its 7-1 semifinal win over host Brazil, prepares to face Argentina at the Maracana Stadium on Sunday.
Germans are celebrating "a team that plays smoothly, intelligently, elegantly and fluently," said Gunter Gebauer, a philosophy professor at Berlin's Free University who specializes in sports.
"People now get a picture of better Germans or a better Germany that is enormously flattering and certainly isn't entirely unjustified," Gebauer said.
It all started with the 2006 World Cup in Germany, when then-coach Jurgen Klinsmann brought a new flair to the team and the nation rallied behind it in a festival of flag-waving support previously unseen in post-World War II Germany.
No matter that Italy beat Germany in the semifinals. What became known as the "summer fairy tale" made the country more comfortable with patriotism, raised its expectations of entertainment from the national team and polished its image abroad.
It also came as Germany started emerging from painful reforms that have been credited with helping make it Europe's increasingly self-confident economic powerhouse of recent years.
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