Juergen Klinsmann invited ridicule when he set himself the seemingly impossible task of revamping Germany's international image during the 2006 World Cup.
Klinsmann despised the stereotype of the dour, unimaginative and humorless German, and he believed he could alter that perception by ripping up a decades-old defensive blueprint and demanding a vibrant approach from his players – thus uniting the country behind them.
Over the course of three remarkable weeks as World Cup host, until a semifinal defeat to Italy, Klinsmann accomplished his objective.
Fast forward two years. The responsibility for keeping the feel-good factor in German football falls upon former Klinsmann No. 2 and current chief Joachim Loew.
Unlike his predecessor, Loew comes into Euro 2008 with Germany carrying the tag of tournament favorite. Expectations across the border are lofty, as Loew is determined to remain true to the attacking and up-tempo style instilled by Klinsmann.
Klinsmann spoke of "showing a completely new German face to the world" in 2006, and the public fell in love with his underrated yet fiercely tenacious team.
But as Loew knows full well, his countrymen love winning more than anything. Failure to match expectations in Austria and Switzerland could lead to an outcry for that new attacking face to do a disappearing act.
Recent history in this event does not bode well for the Germans, who have failed to win a game at the Euros since they won it all in England in 1996. That very fact means there is a certain level of trepidation in the team's camp ahead of Sunday's Group B opener here against Poland.
"You're always nervous," said Germany and Chelsea midfielder Michael Ballack, who is hoping to win a Euro 2008 winners' medal with his country to help erase the painful memories of his club's loss in the Champions League final.
"However much we insist we can end this black series at the Euros, we can't promise victory. But we know we've worked as hard as possible to get here. We have to show bite, will power and positive aggression. If we do that, the mood could be even better than at the World Cup."
Germany has several factors in its favor. While the Poles promise to be courageous and spirited, they have failed to beat Germany on any of the 15 times the countries have met. Also in Group B is co-host Austria, universally written off as the worst team in the tournament and probably cannon fodder for at least Germany and Croatia, if not Poland as well.
But perhaps the biggest advantage for Loew and his players is that they will have huge home support, with thousands of compatriots set to make the short trip over the border, without experiencing the same intensity of pressure that was inherent as hosts in 2006.
"The World Cup was the start of a very positive experience," Loew said. "And it is important that we continue to radiate a positive vibe.
"Of course, we had a home advantage during the World Cup, but I think we will have good fun here as well. It is important for us not to be too tense and to focus on our strengths."
Go back to virtually any period of football history before the brief Klinsmann era, and Germany's strengths included defense, teamwork, efficiency and organization. Now, you can add energy, imagination and even a bit of fun.
But in order to win over the German public for good, this commitment to offensive freedom will require positive results at these European Championships.
- Juergen Klinsmann
- Joachim Loew