Germany's World Cup team symbolizes country's political divide

Germany's midfielder Sami Khedira, right, and Mexico's defender Hector Moreno fall after attempting to head the ball during the World Cup match between Germany and Mexico in Moscow on Sunday.

Sudha David-Wilp is Senior Transatlantic Fellow and deputy director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States' Berlin Office. The views expressed in this commentary are solely hers.

(CNN)The warm weather in Berlin is the perfect backdrop for a repeat "Summer Fairytale" this World Cup season. That 2006 documentary captured a confident nation enthralled with the diversity and potential of its football team. Now, Germany's World Cup champions symbolize the country's doubts over identity -- a consequence of letting in nearly a million asylum seekers in 2015 and frustration over the EU's lack of cooperation on refugees.

Constant harping from the Alternative for Germany (AfD), a right-wing opposition party, and its ilk all over Europe threaten Chancellor Angela Merkel's commitment to uphold the vision of a borderless bloc. But now even within her conservative caucus, a rebellion over migration is unfolding -- one which could threaten the longevity of her leadership.
As World Cup hosts in 2006, Germans celebrated their promising team of players with different heritages, and waved flags while sporting face paint in black, red and gold. This was a historical marker, because Germans were seldom comfortable with outward expressions of national pride (thanks to their dark past).
    Sudha David-Wilp
    But the German Football Association (DFB) gave proof that a different Germany was emerging. Seven players in the 2008 national team had migrant backgrounds, and the DFB ran a pro-integration campaign with a clip featuring the players' parents, who were of color or wearing a headscarf. It seemed as if Germany had turned a chapter and fully embraced its multicultural society.
      Today, those national treasures have been the objects of controversy, as apprehension about identity grows in the face of headlines involving foreigners and violent crime -- as well as polarizing rhetoric from the AfD. Soon after the migration wave in 2015, the AfD's Alexander Gauland claimed that while most Germans admire the black football star Jérôme Boateng, they wouldn't want him as a neighbor. He later apologized, but this is also an AfD leader that described the Nazi era as merely "a speck of bird poop in 1,000 years of glorious German history."
      It's not only the AfD that has a problem with certain players. During a pre-World-Cup friendly with Saudi Arabia, German fans booed midfielder Ilkay Gundogan, despite hand motions from trainer Joachim Löw to stop. Gundogan and teammate Mesut Özil, both of Turkish descent, took an ill-advised photo last month with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Gundogan even gave him a jersey with the regrettable phrase "to my president," which added to the uproar. Gundogan said he had no intention of making a political statement and pledged his loyalty to German values. Both players met with German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in an act of mea culpa and to quell the public outcry.
      But with tensions growing over the last three years, the question remains why it's reaching new heights now. Certainly, the AfD is fueling anxiety, but there have also been unsettling developments with regard to refugees. Although migration flows have dropped, public debates about integration are ongoing -- particularly as acts of anti-Semiti