Germany coach Horst Hrubesch is built like an oak tree. He has played in European Cup, European Championship and World Cup finals. He has managed clubs in the second division and the Bundesliga, briefly served as assistant national coach and guided teams to the European Under-19 and U21 Championships. After 45 years in the game, he will retire next month because he has seen and done everything there is to see and do in football.
Hrubesch has one final hurdle -- the men's Olympic football final against hosts Brazil -- after Germany's 2-0 win over Nigeria in the semifinals; a result that reduced the victorious coach to tears.
You sometimes read it's the first time Germany have reached an Olympic final. Other sources will tell you it's the third. This discrepancy has to do with history -- both the tournament's and the country's.
Until 1984, only amateur players were eligible for an Olympic football tournament. This is the reason why a young Uli Hoeness joined Bayern Munich in 1970 and quickly became a Bundesliga regular but refused to sign a professional contract. His dream was to play for Germany, or rather West Germany (FRG), at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. And he did, alongside another promising amateur by the name of Ottmar Hitzfeld.
This German team survived the first of two group stages but then met sides which were just too strong, among them none other than East Germany (GDR). The Eastern Bloc countries fielded their regular national teams, arguing the players were technically amateurs since they all held down jobs or were members of the army. In fact they were state-sponsored, full-time athletes. That explains why 15 of 16 Olympic medals between 1964 and 1980 were won by Eastern Bloc teams.
Ten of the twelve GDR players who saw action against the FRG at the 1972 Olympics would also travel to the World Cup two years later. This was East Germany's golden generation and the Olympics were their biggest stage. They beat their capitalist neighbours 3-2 to reach the bronze medal match against the Soviet Union. A 19-year-old Oleh Blokhin and veteran defender Murtaz Khurtsilava gave the USSR a two-goal lead, but Dynamo Dresden's dangerous midfielder Hans-Jurgen Kreische and striker Eberhard Vogel tied the game. Since it was still 2-2 after extra time, both teams were given a bronze medal.
Four years later, West Germany failed to qualify for the Montreal Games. East Germany, however, celebrated their finest moment. In the quarterfinals, the GDR defeated a French team starring a 21-year-old Michel Platini 4-0 (a result aided by the fact France were down to nine men after an hour) and then beat the Soviet Union, coached by the legendary Valeriy Lobanovskyi, to reach the final against Poland. Hartmut Schade gave the GDR an early lead and Magdeburg's talented but injury-prone young left winger Martin Hoffmann added a second goal with a great first-time shot. Poland pulled one back after the break, but six minutes from time the best player on the pitch, Dresden's defensive midfielder Reinhard Hafner made it 3-1 to win the first title for East Germany.
It would remain the only one. For the 1980 Summer Olympics, boycotted by most Western countries, the GDR built an entirely new team. Not one of the 1976 heroes travelled to Moscow, yet East Germany reached the final again, meeting Czechoslovakia. It was a close, hard-fought match and there was no love lost between the socialist brothers. The Czech defender Libor Radimec could have seen a red card for a professional foul after 54 minutes but escaped with a booking. Four minutes later, Jan Berger (the uncle of Patrik Berger) and Wolfgang Steinbach quarrelled on the sideline and the Russian referee sent both off. The GDR created more chances, but the only goal of the game was scored on 77 minutes by the Czech striker Jindrich Svoboda.
This was the last game ever played by an East German team at the Olympics. The GDR did qualify for the 1984 tournament in Los Angeles, but two months before the Games began, the Soviet Union declared a boycott and East Germany followed suit. This was good news for the West German team. The FRG had been knocked out by France in the qualifiers but was now invited to California to make up the numbers. The new rules said professional players were eligible as long as they hadn't represented their country at a World Cup and so West Germany could field a decent team -- it included young hopefuls like Andreas Brehme and seasoned players like Frank Mill. Still, they went out to Yugoslavia in the quarterfinals.
For the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, East Germany were drawn into a tough qualifying group with Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal and fell short. West Germany, meanwhile, had a very fine squad, including future World Cup winners Jurgen Klinsmann, Thomas Hassler and Karl-Heinz Riedle. The team reached the semifinals, where they met a strong Brazil side built around Romario, Bebeto and Jorginho.
Five minutes into the second half, Wolfram Wuttke cheekily chipped a free kick into the box and Holger Fach headed home from six yards. Romario equalised in the 79th minute, but moments later West Germany were awarded a penalty for Geovani's clumsy foul on Klinsmann. Veteran Wolfgang Funkel stepped up, but Claudio Taffarel parried the shot. Brazil's goalkeeper then saved another two penalties in the shootout and the Germans had to content themselves with the bronze medal match, which they won 3-0 against Italy.
Almost 30 years would pass before a men's team representing Germany would claim an Olympic medal again. In fact, almost 30 years would pass before Germany even qualified for the tournament again. After 1988, the rules were changed yet again. The Olympics became essentially an U23 competition, though teams could field up to three older players. The rule change more or less coincided with the great crisis in the German youth setup, which partly explains why the country failed to qualify for the next six Summer Olympics.
It took Hrubesch to change that. Under him, Germany's U21 team reached the semifinals of the 2015 European Championship, where they suffered a humiliating 5-0 defeat at the hands of Portugal -- but won the right to send a team to Brazil.
But who would be in this team? There were rumours Philipp Lahm or Per Mertesacker could join the squad, but this was never likely due to scheduling, as the tournament clashed with the clubs' preseason preparations. In the end, Hrubesch could not pick more than two players from one club, no players who had just changed teams and nobody who had been in the Euro 2016 squad.
Which is why the side includes experienced Bundesliga players like the Bender twins, Sven and Lars, and widely unknown talents like Leipzig's Lukas Klostermann and Ingolstadt's Robert Bauer. Hrubesch even called up a second division player, Karlsruhe's Grischa Promel, and Arsenal's Serge Gnabry, who has made a grand total of one Premier League appearance in the last two and a half years.
What's worse, the squad came together for the first time just seven days before the Olympics began. Predictably, the team were not very organised at the back during the first games and fell behind four times against Mexico and South Korea. But they always came back. Gnabry's stoppage-time equaliser against South Korea not only averted elimination at the group stage, it also gave the side momentum. In the quarterfinals, the team ran rampant against Portugal, winning 4-0 and taking revenge for the 2015 defeat.
Speaking of revenge, the final on Saturday night will be more than just a game for the gold medal. After Brazil, led by Neymar, had won their semifinal against Honduras, the fans chanted: "Oh Alemanha, pode esperar! A sua hora vai chegar!"
Translated, it means the hour is near when Germany will pay the price for that humiliating 7-1 semifinal win over Brazil at the World Cup in 2014.
The atmosphere will be intimidating, but Hrubesch is looking forward to it.
He told his players: "You can go to the Maracana and play for the gold medal in front of a sell-out crowd against none other than Brazil. What more can you hope for as a young player?"
What he didn't tell them was that it's also the perfect stage and the perfect moment for himself to put the finishing touch on a long and illustrious career in football.