So the German dream is over. A nation awash in a party mood for the past three weeks sits in stunned disbelief at the cruel way Italy snatched two goals at the death in Dortmund.
The schwarz-rot-gold clad millions had finally come to believe that the team of apparent no-hopers led by a novice coach living in California could actually lift the trophy. As Jurgen Klinsmann’s team advanced and especially after they overpowered Sweden and then won a penalty shoot-out with the powerful Argentinians, the public fervour became a tidal wave capable of carrying the team all the way to the cup.
Had the Nationalmannschaft managed to hold out only another ninety seconds they probably would have had at least a finger on the trophy, given Germany’s prowess at penalties and the ever increasing tsunami of home support.
But for all the pints of smudged face paint, the resonating chants of ‘Wir fahren nach Berlin’ (We’re going to Berlin) echoing through the nation’s undergrounds, the noisy carnivals in the street that went on long into the night, the bare breasts glistening with black, red and yellow poster paint (you should have been in Munich), the fluttering flags on speeding cars and the saturating 24/7 media hyping of the German team, in the end the satta king hosts were fairly and squarely undone by a better football team.
No one could dislike Italian football’s cynical gamesmanship more than I, but gli azzurri deserved their semi-final victory. Marcello Lippi’s men played stoutly in defence like Italians always do, but also knew how to turn the screw when it mattered with sustained pressure from an impressive midfield.
Their explosion at the start of extra time when they hit the woodwork twice was proof of their potency and the two goal salvo at the death came courtesy of improvised moments of superior individual technique. In attack they looked the more honed and more incisive of the two teams, producing passing triangles with rapier thrusts on the edge of the German box and they understood how to manage the rhythms of the game better than the hosts, for all their passionate endeavour.
Italy dominated possession almost 60 – 40, no mean feat against the home nation playing a World Cup semi-final at such an intimidating venue as the Westfalen Stadion, where 65,000 are perched right on top of the field.
The Germans I know were utterly speechless after the final whistle. Football can be so cruel and so painful, but we will always come back for more. In the tearful, inconsolable aftermath of another host nation crashing out following a remarkable ride of euphoria, let us hope we can see more of Klinsmann’s heroic team, who had to endure universal scorn before the finals yet almost pulled off the greatest prize of all before their lack of class was finally exposed on a stifling night in Dortmund.
Let us hope too that we have not seen the last of Klinsmann as a coach following his remarkable playing career. Above all, let us wish the wonderful scenes of jubilation across Germany for the past three weeks give birth to a more positive view of that nation within and outside its borders, a reinvented land that is friendly and open to allcomers. Danke schon, Deutschland.