Another Summer to Remember? For Germany: So Far, So Great.

The arc of Philipp Lahm’s career had the rhythm of someone meticulously ticking items off a bucket list. He won eight German championships with Bayern Munich, the team he supported as a child. He served as its captain for six years. He led the club to a domestic and European treble. A year later, he captained Germany to World Cup glory.

Now, a few years into retirement, Lahm has become a respected figurehead for German soccer as a whole: smart, thoughtful, discreet by inclination but frank when required. He has occupied a handful of honorary, ambassadorial posts, but in 2020 was given a real job, as tournament director of Euro 2024.

Yet for everything else he has achieved, Lahm will always be remembered in his homeland as the man who ushered in the Sommermärchen, the fairy-tale summer, of 2006. All that year’s World Cup became, all it meant to Germany then and all it means to Germany now, started with his goal in the opening game, here in Munich, against Costa Rica.

Germany did not win that tournament, of course. The host’s run ended, in a technical sense, in heartbreak. If anything, though, that heightened the meaning with which it was subsequently imbued. For Germany, the 2006 World Cup has always been less about the outcome than — in a surprisingly literal sense — about the friends it made along the way.

After just a single game of this year’s tournament, it is much too early to declare that the scorer of the host’s opening goal in Euro 2024, the elfin Bayer Leverkusen playmaker Florian Wirtz, is destined to follow in Lahm’s path.

Perhaps this dominant 5-1 win against a committed but very obviously overmatched Scotland will prove a false dawn. Perhaps one of Wirtz’s teammates will come to dominate the tournament, or at least Germany’s portion of it, in such a way that he becomes the central figure in the narrative. (Jamal Musiala, if you want a name.) Perhaps Germany will go on to win the whole thing, the details lost in the tableau.

Tournaments, like butterflies, all have their own distinct colors and patterns, but they start to become clear only once they emerge from the chrysalis. (Please note: This may not be true of butterflies, but just go along with it for the purposes of the metaphor.) Nor do they stay the same. Over time, they can gleam or mottle or fade.

That has certainly been the case with 2006. Its shadow has hung heavy over this tournament, a memory so perfect that the present did not seem able to compete. Germany recalls, keenly, how happy it was then, and how unhappy it seems now, with a war not far from its borders and an economy stagnating and the far right on the rise.

But this is a trick of the light. The country was fretful in 2006, too, unsure how the tournament would go, uncomfortable with the idea of celebrating itself in public. That changed only with Lahm’s intervention. It was only then that Germany began to discern the colors of that bright and vivid summer.

The hope, then, must be that — regardless of where Germany’s story ends — Wirtz’s goal will have the same effect, 18 years later. This tournament will not solve any of the problems roiling both Germany and Europe. No matter how bombastic UEFA’s mission statements and slogans, that is a job far too large for sports. It is not a panacea.

That does not mean it cannot provide a welcome palliative over the next month. Wirtz’s goal, supplemented by the four that followed, served to soothe Germany’s sporting nerves — the haunting sense that humiliation on the field might lie in wait — and that, for now, may be enough.

For all the worries, for all the angst, Germany has a glimmer of hope, a promise that something encouraging and blissful and — in the best possible way — wondrously trivial might be stirring. That may be all it takes to help the country embrace the tournament: a sense that this might actually be a few weeks to remember.

A few thoughts as we begin:

PREPARE FOR FUN This is, I think, the first men’s tournament in almost a decade that does not represent a major logistical operation for fans of most of the competing nations. The last two World Cups, in Russia and Qatar, were financially draining, practically challenging and morally complex. The previous European Championship, held across the continent, was strangled by travel restrictions.

Not since France, and Euro 2016, has being present at a tournament — not necessarily even attending games — seemed so simple. Germany is, as the tagline goes, in the heart of Europe. The Netherlands and Poland will both pull vast caravans of fans in their wake, but special mention to the Scots, too.

On Thursday morning, I flew out of Manchester Airport (which is not, you will be aware, in Scotland). My flight, like the airport, was full of Scottish fans, a majority of them in full tartan regalia. This was especially striking because my flight was headed to Rome. That was not the only detachment of the Tartan Army to take a circuitous route: By Friday, there were, by some estimates, about 200,000 Scots in Munich. To put it another way, that is 4 percent of the country’s population.

HOUSE OF ORANJE Just before I left, my son and I ran into a neighbor who asked which team in the European Championship had the broader support of the Smith household. He was expecting England, of course, or maybe Scotland.

Instead, my son proudly declared that for the next month he would be Dutch. I had to explain: My son is British, of course, but at age 6, a nation is still a fuzzy, indistinct concept. He is, presumably, loyal to it on some level, but he does not feel it as immediately, as keenly, as he does his loyalty to the greater glory of Virgil van Dijk.

COMING HOME? Gareth Southgate’s approach to the job of England manager is probably best summed up by the way it might end. Regardless of how his (surprisingly) bold squad fares in Germany, there is a rumbling sentiment that this might be his last tournament.

That decision will not have to be made in haste, though. Southgate’s contract expires in December, an unusual time frame for an international coach (generally they work from major tournament to major tournament). This is extremely Southgate: It gives both him and England’s soccer authorities the chance to review and reflect on the right course of action once the euphoria/regret has ebbed.

Likewise, the fact that his employers have a succession plan in place is to be commended. Less praiseworthy is the suggestion that they would be more than happy to appoint a non-English manager to replace him. It is one of my few abiding beliefs that major soccer nations should not have foreign coaches.

That sounds bad, I realize, but rest assured it is not rooted in some Neolithic conservatism. International soccer is meant to test the strength of a country’s sporting culture. If major nations cannot produce good managers, then that is a flaw they should have to address organically, rather than drafting an import from a country that can. (Yes, Belgium and Portugal, I am looking at you.)

U.S. 1, BRAZIL 1 If the buildup to the European Championship has felt relatively low-key until the very last moment, then it is safe to say that the looming Copa América does not really feature in the European imagination just yet.

But that does not mean the United States’ creditable draw with Brazil passed by unnoticed: If it felt like a sign that the Seleção is still something of a work in progress, then it should offer Gregg Berhalter — and his team and his country — considerable encouragement going into the tournament.

His reign, thus far, feels as if it lacks a signature result: a proof of concept, a sign of what might be to come. Drawing with Brazil, even a slightly anemic one, even in a tuneup game, does not quite meet the bar. It hints, though, that the Copa América might be the stage on which the United States can find one.

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