25 May ~ "The Germans themselves have long viewed diligence and efficiency as their greatest virtues," Alan Watson wrote in his post-unification study The Germans: Who Are They Now? While you can be sure that English television commentators will cite the E word in relation to Germany at some point during next month's World Cup, the fact remains that some aspects of a national stereotype can't help but ring true. You'd only have to visit the Sportschule Hennef just south of Cologne and take a look at Germany's World Cup preparation project to understand why.
For the second successive World Cup, the German FA has partnered with the Hennef sports university to methodically study Germany's group opponents, as well as the teams they could potentially meet later in the tournament. In practical terms, this means that 55 students spend several hours a day watching laptop footage of archived games, making notes on such minutiae as where the Ghanaian goalkeeper tends to position himself at corner kicks, and which side of the Australian defence is more easily breached. Individual players will receive DVD compilations of the players they are most likely to come up against. Each game that is analysed takes eight hours to break down and "codify".
If you think that's taking things a bit too far, then consider the note that Oliver Kahn famously handed to Jens Lehman just before the quarter-final penalty shootout against Argentina in 2006. The German media played this up as the heart-warming moment of conciliation between two rivals, despite their well-documented mutual contempt stretching back almost 20 years. But the tips on which way to dive were not just Ollie's idle notes he'd made while warming the bench and surfing the internet for old Copa America games. "We helped compile that information," confirmed project leader Jürgen Buschmann to German weekly Die Zeit earlier this year.
It's arguable that if Germany had held out for a couple more minutes against Italy in the next round, similar information might have helped them reach the final. The university admits that the odds of their research influencing the games are far less significant than all the other factors that come into play during the course of a 90-minute sporting contest, when player and referee error combine with flashes of skill, genius, luck or inspiration to mould a final result. But there's no harm in good preparation, and as the shootout proved, that extra slither of information might just be enough to swing a game.
The research team will continue its work during the tournament, sending out data and analysis to German coach Joachim Löw in South Africa. Buschmann believes the project is just another sign that sport is becoming more scientific – part of an increased focus on diet, sports medicine and training methods. You could look at it as a more lab-based version of Fabio Capello's WAGs and ketchup ban. Once the players are out on the field it's all up to them, but if they've been meticulously and systematically primed, maybe that extra diligence and efficiency will help determine who comes out top in a narrow field. Ian Plenderleith