BERLIN (AP) — Chancellor Angela Merkel will travel to the World Cup final in Brazil, giving Germany's most prominent fan perhaps her best chance yet to watch the team lift a trophy after eight years of very public support.
Merkel has become a frequent sight at Germany matches since the country hosted the World Cup in 2006, a few months after she took office — and a regular visitor to the team's dressing room. Tuesday's stunning 7-1 demolition of Brazil put Germany into the final for the first time since 2002, setting the scene for Merkel's second appearance at this World Cup.
"I think it almost deserves the name 'historic,' and now I can only say that I wish the team lots of strength and concentration for the task that remains ahead," Merkel said Wednesday. The government said she will travel with President Joachim Gauck to Rio de Janeiro for Sunday's final against either Argentina or the Netherlands.
A manipulated image of Rio's iconic Christ the Redeemer statue replaced by a pantsuit-clad Merkel, arms aloft in celebration, started circulating on social media as Germany took apart the Brazilian team.
Merkel's celebrations appear to have helped endear the 59-year-old chancellor, who otherwise is rarely given to public displays of emotion, to German voters over the years.
She already crossed the Atlantic to watch Germany's opening 4-0 defeat of Portugal last month, posing for selfies with some of the players and for a group photo in the dressing room.
Ahead of that trip, she said that she doesn't talk to coach Joachim Loew about strategy, but has discussed with him the fact that "our national team is an ambassador for Germany, particularly now at this World Cup."
"On the other hand, of course, I am also a fan, like millions of other people," she said.
The head of the Forsa polling agency, Manfred Guellner, attributed a small subsequent uptick in her conservative party's ratings to Merkel's trip.
"The chancellor is showing once again ... that she takes people and their interests seriously and is celebrating with them," Guellner told Stern magazine. By going to the match and posing with the team, "she chimed with the majority's attitude to life," he added.
Midfielder Sami Khedira said before Merkel attended Germany's quarterfinal against Greece at the 2012 European Championship that "she seems to bring us luck." Germany won 4-2, though it then lost to Italy — without the chancellor in attendance — in the semifinal.
"We think it's great that she made this journey," Loew said after Merkel visited last month. "We're always glad when she comes to the dressing room."