| France’s Zinedine Zidane in action during the semi-final against Portugal. Zidane gave France the lead in the 33rd minute through a penalty. (AFP)
July 5: Germany lost and yet'
“You are still our heroes... We are crying with you,” screamed the country’s leading Bild tabloid over a front-page photo of coach Juergen Klinsmann with his head in his hands.
Tears flowed freely in Dortmund’s stadium of noise last night after the 2-0 defeat by Italy but no one was looking for a villain to hang from the nearest lamp-post, as in Brazil or in England where the coach is now the evil man.
Instead, led by soccer icon Franz Beckenbauer, the country is almost begging Klinsmann to stay on and guide the team to the European championship two years on.
“I hope Juergen Klinsmann carries on. He has a young team which he has moulded in his image,” the Kaiser said.
In heartbreak, Germany was already looking to the future. And why not' The team is young and full of promise, though its leader, Michael Ballack, at 29, may not find the expectation of tomorrow to be enough consolation for the disappointment of today.
He left the field weeping last night. There’ll not be another World Cup for him, perhaps. Ballack has only Chelsea to look forward to.
Still, he may be luckier than the poor Italians who won yesterday and could go on to lift the cup on Sunday, get swept up in a national euphoria of raining confetti and open-top bus rides before the hammer-blow reminder that the future doesn’t look too good.
Thirteen of the team’s members play for the four top Italian clubs that face the punishment of being relegated from the premier division over a corruption scandal.
There were conjectures that unfolding shame at home has had a whiplash impact on the team, egging it on to give its best.
Coach Marcello Lippi said: “Yes, the confusion of the past two months has given us all the desire to respond in an appropriate way.
“It’s brought this group of guys together. We wanted to show what Italian soccer really means.”
They did show last night how classy Italian soccer could be. Even the opponents acknowledged that. “The Italians were simply better. But boys, you are still our heroes,” the Bild said.
Under Klinsmann, Germany played attacking football, a trait it’s not associated with. “I hope we’ve shown a whole new German face to the world,” the coach said.
It was a new German face in more ways than one ' a hospitable host, a great organiser (which had rarely been in doubt), a nation that forgot its past to flaunt the national flag and, above all, a football team that catches your breath.
Strange was the match yesterday. The Italians, much like Germany, have not been known for offensive flair until Dortmund, July 4. Commentators are calling it the best match of this cup because of the almost relentless excitement it caused.
But it’s been a strange tournament anyway. Those, like Brazil, expected to send the pulse racing, were soporific, while Germany and Italy entertained. And France, the team of has-beens.
Let the entertainment carry on till Sunday.