Germany's young players will be older, more experienced and quite possibly better by the time of the next World Cup. Whether coach Joachim Loew is there to guide them is unclear.
Loew has remained silent on his future after contract extension negotiations with the federation broke down and a decision is expected soon after the World Cup.
But Loew says the multicultural group he picked on flair and skill has a bright future no matter who is leading it. Germany reached the semifinals for the third straight tournament and can finish third, just as it did four years ago at home.
"This team will remain together," Loew said after Wednesday's 1-0 semifinal loss to Spain. "This team has very good players and many possibilities. No matter who is in charge, it will stay together. The team's development is not at its end, it has just begun.
"We wanted to achieve a lot and we are disappointed not to have gone through to the final. But I must give my players compliments how they played at this tournament. We gave everything. We gave our best."
Loew's team will now play Uruguay in Saturday's third-place match in Port Elizabeth (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 2 p.m. ET) and the coach said his team wanted to end the tournament with a strong performance.
It also could be Loew's last match in charge. The 50-year-old coach, who has the best won-lost ratio of all Germany coaches, fell out with the federation in February over several issues, including financial compensation and staffing decisions.
The federation president, Theo Zwanziger, has said he would like Loew to stay and the players also have backed him.
"We need a good coach and he's a very good coach," captain Philipp Lahm said. "But it's not our decision."
Lahm said the team was disappointed by the semifinal loss to Spain, the side that also beat Germany 1-0 in the 2008 European Championship final. That was Loew's first major tournament in charge.
"But we played a very good tournament here. We have a lot of quality and we'll work more to be able to play for the title again," Lahm said. "It's good that I have a few more years ahead of me. We have the chance to mix it up with the top teams for years to come."
Germany arrived in South Africa with its second-youngest World Cup team ever and unsure of its true potential. A 4-1 victory over England in the second round and then 4-0 over Argentina raised hopes of the country's fourth World Cup title.
But Germany ran into a very polished Spain team at its best and had its shortcomings exposed.
"We can learn from this game, we are on a good way," Loew's assistant Hansi Flick said Thursday. "These young players can develop further and we can work to achieve a higher technical level. There is a lot of potential in this group and a great team spirit.
"We can play very good football and our attack was world-class."
Germany faces another tricky decision. Michael Ballack, its longtime captain and leader. missed the World Cup with an ankle injury. Ballack wants to return — but Lahm wants to keep the captaincy.
"I spoke honestly,"Lahm said. "When it's fun you want to continue and I am having fun. It's not a power struggle, the power is with the coach. I have no problem whatsoever if Ballack comes back and wants the captaincy. It's not my job to say who gets it.
"I am not going to give him back my armband voluntarily but I have no problem if the coach gives it back to him."
Germany will be flying home Sunday and, unlike four years ago when the team showed up at a stage in Berlin to be celebrated by tens of thousands of home fans, there will be no party this time.
"We wanted more than third place and we felt it wouldn't be appropriate to have a party," Lahm said.