Early years (1899–1942)
Between 1899 and 1901, prior to the formation of a national team, there were five unofficial international matches between different German and English selection teams, which all ended as large defeats for the German teams. Eight years after the establishment of the (DFB), the first official match of the Germany national football team was played on 5 April 1908, against Switzerland in Basel, with the Swiss winning 5–3. Coincidentally, the first match after World War I in 1920, the first match after World War II in 1950 when Germany was still banned from most international competitions, and the first match in 1990 with former East German players were all against Switzerland as well. Germany's first championship title was even won in Switzerland.
At that time the players were selected by the DFB, as there was no dedicated coach. The first manager of the Germany national team was Otto Nerz, a school teacher from Mannheim, who served in the role from 1926 to 1936. The German FA could not afford travel to Uruguay for the first World Cup staged in 1930 during the Great Depression, but finished third in the 1934 World Cup in their first appearance in the competition. After a poor showing at the in Berlin, Sepp Herberger became coach. In 1937 he put together a squad which was soon nicknamed the Breslau Elf (the Breslau Eleven) in recognition of their 8–0 win over Denmark in the then German city of Breslau, Lower Silesia (now Wrocław, Poland).
After Austria became part of Germany in the Anschluss of March 1938, that country's – one of Europe's better sides at the time due to professionalism – was disbanded despite having already qualified for the 1938 World Cup. As required by Nazi politicians, five or six ex-Austrian players, from the clubs Rapid Vienna, Austria Vienna, First Vienna FC, were ordered to join the all-German team on short notice in a staged show of unity orchestrated for political reasons. In the 1938 World Cup that began on 4 June, this "united" German team managed only a 1–1 draw against Switzerland and then lost the replay 2–4 in front of a hostile crowd in Paris, France. That early exit stands as Germany's worst World Cup result (excluding the 1930 and 1950 tournaments in which they did not compete).
During World War II, the team played over 30 international games between September 1939 and November 1942, when national team games were suspended, as most players had to join the armed forces. Many of the national team players were gathered together under coach Herberger as Rote Jäger through the efforts of a sympathetic air force officer trying to protect the footballers from the most dangerous wartime service.
Three German national teams (1945–1990)
After the Second World War, Germany was banned from competition in most sports until 1950. The DFB was not a full member of FIFA, and none of the three new German states — West Germany, East Germany, and Saarland — entered the 1950 World Cup qualifiers.
The Federal Republic of Germany, which was referred to as West Germany, continued the DFB. With recognition by FIFA and UEFA, the DFB maintained and continued the record of the pre-war team. Switzerland was once again the first team that played West Germany in 1950. West Germany qualified for the 1954 World Cup.
The Saarland, under French control between 1947 and 1956, did not join French organisations, and was barred from participating in pan-German ones. It sent their own team to the 1952 Summer Olympics and to the 1954 World Cup qualifiers. In 1957, Saarland acceded to the Federal Republic of Germany.
In 1949, the communist German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was founded. In 1952 the Deutscher Fußball-Verband der DDR (DFV) was established and the took to the field. They were the only team to beat the 1974 FIFA World Cup winning West Germans in the only meeting of the two sides of the divided nation. East Germany won the gold medal at the . After German reunification in 1990, the eastern football competition was reintegrated into the DFB.
1954 World Cup victory
scored the winning goal in the 1954 FIFA World Cup final.
West Germany, captained by Fritz Walter, met in the 1954 World Cup , and . When playing favourites in the group stage, Germany lost 3–8. West Germany met the Hungarian Mighty Magyars again in the final. Hungary had gone unbeaten for 32 consecutive matches. In an upset, West Germany won 3–2, with Helmut Rahn scoring the winning goal. The success is called "The Miracle of Bern" (Das Wunder von Bern)..
Memorable losses: Wembley goal and game of the century (1958–1970)
After finishing fourth in the 1958 World Cup and reaching only the quarter-finals in the 1962 World Cup, the DFB made changes. Professionalism was introduced, and the best clubs from the various Regionalligas were assembled into the new Bundesliga. In 1964, Helmut Schön took over as coach, replacing Herberger who had been in office for 28 years.
In the 1966 World Cup, West Germany reached the final after beating the in the semifinal, facing hosts England. In extra time, the first goal by Geoff Hurst was one of the most contentious goals in the history of the World Cup: the linesman signalled the ball had crossed the line for a goal, after bouncing down from the crossbar, when replays showed it did not appear to have fully crossed the line. Hurst then scored another goal giving England a 4–2 win.
West Germany in the 1970 World Cup knocked England out in the quarter-finals 3–2, before they suffered a 4–3 extra-time loss in the semi-final against . This match with five goals in extra time is one of the most dramatic in World Cup history, and is called the "" in both Italy and Germany. West Germany claimed third by beating 1–0. Gerd Müller finished as the tournament's top scorer with 10 goals.
1974 World Cup title on home soil
In 1971, Franz Beckenbauer became captain of the national team, and he led West Germany to victory at the European Championship at Euro 1972, defeating the Soviet Union 3–0 in the final.
As hosts of the 1974 World Cup, they won their second World Cup, defeating the Netherlands 2–1 in the final in Munich. Two matches in the 1974 World Cup stood out for West Germany. The first group stage saw a politically charged match as West Germany played a game against . The East Germans won 1–0. The West Germans advanced to the final against the Johan Cruijff-led Dutch team and their brand of "". The Dutch took the lead from a . However, West Germany tied the match on a penalty by Paul Breitner, and won it with Gerd Müller's fine finish soon after.
Late 1970s and early 1980s
West Germany failed to defend their titles in the next two major international tournaments. They lost to in the final of Euro 1976 in a 5–3. Since that loss, Germany has not lost a penalty shootout in major international tournaments.
In the 1978 World Cup, Germany was eliminated in the second group stage after losing 2–3 to . Schön retired as coach afterward, and the post was taken over by his assistant, Jupp Derwall.
West Germany's first tournament under Derwall was successful, as they earned their second European title at Euro 1980 after defeating 2–1 in the final. West Germany reached the final of the 1982 World Cup, though not without difficulties. They were upset 1–2 by in their first match, but advanced to the second round with a controversial 1–0 win over . In the semifinal against France, they tied the match 3–3 and won the penalty shootout 5–4. In the final, they were defeated by Italy 1–3.
During this period, West Germany's Gerd Müller racked up fourteen goals in two World Cups (1970 and 1974). His ten goals in 1970 are the third-most ever in a tournament. (Müller's all-time World Cup record of 14 goals was broken by in 2006 which has been further broken by Miroslav Klose in 2014 with 16 goals).
Beckenbauer's coaching success (1984–1990)
After West Germany were eliminated in the first round of Euro 1984, Franz Beckenbauer returned to the national team to replace Derwall as coach. At the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, West Germany finished as runners-up for the second consecutive tournament after beating France 2–0 in the semi-finals, but losing to the Diego Maradona-led in the final, 2–3. In Euro 1988, West Germany's hopes of winning the tournament on home soil were spoiled by the Netherlands, as the Dutch beat them 2–1 in the semifinals.
At the 1990 World Cup in Italy, West Germany won their third World Cup title, in its unprecedented third consecutive final appearance. Captained by Lothar Matthäus, they defeated (4–1), (5–1), the Netherlands (2–1), (1–0), and England (1–1, 4–3 on penalty kicks) on the way to a final rematch against , played in the Italian capital of Rome. West Germany won 1–0, with the only goal being a penalty scored in the 85th minute by Andreas Brehme. Beckenbauer, who won the World Cup as the national team's captain in 1974, thus became the first person to win the World Cup as both captain and coach.
Prior to 1984, Olympic football was an amateur event, meaning that only non-professional players could participate. Due to this, West Germany was never able to achieve the same degree of success at the Olympics as at the World Cup, with the first medal coming in the , when they won the bronze medal. It took Germany 28 years to participate at the Olympics again in , this time reaching the final and winning a silver medal. West Germany also reached the second round in both and . On the other hand, East Germany did far better, winning a gold, a silver and two bronze medals (one representing the United Team of Germany).
Berti Vogts years (1990–1998)
In February 1990, months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the draw for the 1992 European Championship qualifying tournament saw and West Germany drawn together. After West Germany's 1990 World Cup win, assistant Berti Vogts took over as the national team coach from the retiring Beckenbauer. The members of the East German association Deutscher Fußball-Verband acceded to the DFB in November, while the 1990–91 seasons would continue, with the restructuring of leagues scheduled for 1991–92. The first game with a unified German team was against on 10 October.
In Euro 1992, Germany reached the final, but lost 0–2 to . In the 1994 World Cup, they were upset 1–2 in the quarterfinals by .
Reunified Germany won its first major international title at Euro 1996, becoming European champions for the third time. They defeated hosts England in the semifinals, and the 2–1 in the final on a golden goal in extra time.
However, in the 1998 World Cup, Germany were eliminated in the quarterfinals in a 0–3 defeat to , all goals being scored after defender Christian Wörns received a straight red card. Vogts stepped down afterwards and was replaced by Erich Ribbeck.
Oliver Kahn and Michael Ballack era (2000–2006)
In Euro 2000, the team went out in the first round, drawing with Romania, then suffering a 1–0 defeat to England and were routed 3–0 by Portugal (which fielded their backup players, having already advanced). Ribbeck resigned, and was replaced by Rudi Völler.
Coming into the 2002 World Cup, expectations of the German team were low due to poor results in the qualifiers and not directly qualifying for the finals for the first time. The team advanced through group play, and in the knockout stages they produced three consecutive 1–0 wins against , the United States, and co-hosts . Oliver Neuville scored two minutes from time against Paraguay and Michael Ballack scored both goals in the USA and South Korea games, although he picked up a second yellow card against South Korea for a tactical foul and was suspended for the subsequent match. This set up a final against , the first World Cup meeting between the two. Germany lost 0–2 thanks to two goals. Nevertheless, German captain and goalkeeper Oliver Kahn won the , the first time in the World Cup that a goalkeeper was named the best player of the tournament.
People watching the 2006 Germany v. Argentina match at the Donau Arena in Regensburg
Germany again exited in the first round of Euro 2004, drawing their first two matches and losing the third to the Czech Republic (who had fielded a second-string team). Völler resigned afterwards, and Jürgen Klinsmann was appointed head coach.
Klinsmann's main task was to lead the national team to a good showing at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Klinsmann relieved goalkeeper Kahn of the captaincy and announced that Kahn and longtime backup Jens Lehmann would be competing for the position of starting goaltender, a decision that angered Kahn and Lehmann eventually won that contest. Expectations for the team were low, which was not helped by veteran defender Christian Wörns being dropped (after Wörns criticized Klinsmann for designating him only as a backup player on the squad), a choice roundly panned in Germany. Italy routed Germany 4–1 in a March exhibition game, and Klinsmann bore the brunt of the criticism as the team was ranked only 22nd in the world entering the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
As World Cup hosts, Germany won all three group-stage matches to finish top of their group. The team defeated 2–0 in the round of 16. Germany faced Argentina in the quarter-finals. The match ended 1–1, and Germany won the penalty shootout 4–2. In the semi-final against Italy, the match was scoreless until near the end of extra time when Germany conceded two goals. In the third place match, Germany defeated Portugal 3–1. Miroslav Klose was awarded the Golden Boot for his tournament-leading five goals.
New orientation under Löw (2006–2014)
Germany's entry into the Euro 2008 qualifying round was marked by the promotion of Joachim Löw to head coach, since Klinsmann resigned. At the UEFA Euro 2008, Germany won two out of three matches in group play to advance to the knockout round. They defeated 3–2 in the quarterfinal, and won their semifinal against . Germany lost the final against Spain 0–1, finishing as the runners-up.
In the 2010 World Cup, Germany won the group and advanced to the knockout stage. In the round of 16, Germany defeated England 4–1. The game controversially had a valid goal by Frank Lampard disallowed. In the quarterfinals, Germany defeated 4–0, and Miroslav Klose tied German Gerd Müller's record of 14 World Cup goals. In the semi-final, Germany lost 1–0 to . Germany defeated Uruguay 3–2 to take third place (their second third place after 2006). German Thomas Müller won the Golden Boot and the Best Young Player Award.
German national team during Euro 2012 qualifiers
In the Euro 2012, Germany was placed in group B along with , Netherlands, and . Germany won all three group matches. Germany defeated Greece in the quarter-final and set a record of 15 consecutive wins in all competitive matches. In the semi-finals, Germany lost to Italy by 1–2.
2014 World Cup victory
Germany lifting the World Cup trophy in 2014
Germany finished first in their qualification group for the 2014 World Cup. The draw for the 2014 FIFA World Cup finals placed Germany in Group G, with , , and United States. They first faced Portugal in a match billed by some as the "team of all the talents against the team of The Talent (Cristiano Ronaldo)", routing the Portuguese 4–0 thanks to a hat-trick by Thomas Müller. In their match with Ghana, they led the game with Götze's second half goal, but then conceded two consecutive goals, then at the 71st minute Klose scored a goal to help Germany to draw 2–2 with Ghana. With that goal, Klose also nudged home his 15th World Cup goal to join former Brazil striker at the pinnacle of World Cup Finals scorers. They then went on to defeat the United States team 1–0, securing them a spot in the round of sixteen against .
The round of sixteen knockout match against Algeria remained goalless after regulation time, resulting in extra time. In the 92nd minute, André Schürrle scored a goal from a Thomas Müller pass. Mesut Özil scored Germany's second goal in the 120th minute. Algeria managed to score one goal in injury time and the match ended 2–1. Germany secured a place in the quarter-final, where they would face France.
In the quarter-final match against , Mats Hummels scored in the 13th minute. Germany won the game 1–0 to advance to a record fourth consecutive semi-finals
The semi-final win (7–1) against was a major accomplishment. Germany scored four goals in just 400 seconds and were 5–0 up against Brazil by the end of the first half with goals from Thomas Müller, Miroslav Klose, Sami Khedira and two from Toni Kroos. Klose's goal in the 23rd minute, his 16th World Cup goal, gave him sole possession of the record for most goals scored during World Cup Finals, dethroning former Brazilian national .
In the second half of the game, substitute André Schürrle scored twice for Germany to lead 7–0, the highest score against Brazil in a single game. Germany did, however, concede a late goal to Brazil's . It was Brazil's worst ever World Cup defeat, whilst Germany broke multiple World Cup records with the win, including the record broken by Klose, the first team to reach four consecutive World Cup semi-finals, the first team to score seven goals in a World Cup Finals knockout phase game, the fastest five consecutive goals in World Cup history (four of which in just 400 seconds), the first team to score five goals in the first half in a World Cup semi-final as well as being the topic of the most tweets ever on Twitter about a certain subject when the previous social media record was smashed after Germany scored their fourth goal. Also, Germany's seven goals took their total tally in World Cup history to 223, surpassing Brazil's 221 goals to first place overall.
The World Cup Final was held at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro on 13 July, and billed as the world's best player (Lionel Messi) versus the world's best team (Germany). Mario Götze's 113th-minute goal helped Germany beat Argentina 1–0, becoming the first-ever European team to win a FIFA World Cup in the Americas.
Euro 2016 and present
After several players retired from the team following the 2014 World Cup win, including Philipp Lahm, Per Mertesacker and Miroslav Klose, the team had a disappointing start in the UEFA Euro 2016 qualifiers. They defeated Scotland 2–1 at home, then suffered a 2–0 loss at Poland (the first in their history), a 1–1 draw against the Republic of Ireland, and a 4–0 win over . The year ended with an away 0–1 friendly win against , the reigning European champions of 2008 and 2012.
Troubles during qualifying for the 2016 European Championship continued, drawing at home, as well as losing away, to Ireland; the team also only narrowly defeated Scotland on two occasions, but handily won the return against Poland and both games against Gibraltar (who competed for the first time). Eventually, however, topping their group and qualifying for the tournament through a 2–1 victory against Georgia on 11 October 2015 (having won the first match against them).
On 13 November 2015, the team was playing a friendly match against in Paris when a series of terrorist attacks took place in the city, some in the direct vicinity of the Stade de France, where the game was held. For security reasons, the team needed to spend the night inside the stadium, accompanied by the French squad who stayed behind in an act of comradery. Four days later, on 17 November 2015, the German team was scheduled to face the Netherlands at Hanover's HDI-Arena, also in a friendly. After initial security reservations, the DFB decided to play the match on 15 November. However, after reports about a concrete threat to the stadium, the match was cancelled ninety minutes before kickoff.
Germany began their preparations for Euro 2016 in March with friendlies against England and Italy. They gave up a 2–0 lead and ended up losing 2–3 to England. They bounced back in their match with Italy, however, winning by a score of 4–1. It was their first win against the Italians in 21 years.
Germany began their campaign for a fourth European title with a 2–0 win against Ukraine on 12 June. Against Poland, Germany was held to a 0–0 draw but concluded Group C with a 1–0 win against Northern Ireland. In the Round of 16, Germany faced Slovakia and earned a comfortable 3–0 win. Germany then faced off against Italy in the quarter-finals. Mesut Özil opened the scoring in the 65th minute for Germany, before Leonardo Bonucci drew even after converting a penalty in the 78th minute. The score remained 1–1 after extra time and Germany beat Italy 6–5 in a penalty shootout. It was the first time Germany had overcome Italy in a major tournament. In the semi-finals Germany played the host nation France. Germany's hopes of securing a fourth European championship were put on hold however as France ended Germany's run by eliminating them by a score of 0–2. It was France's first competitive win against Germany in 58 years.
On 2 July 2017, Germany won the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup after a 1–0 win against in the final at the Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg, it was their first FIFA Confederations Cup title.