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Heroes´ welcome for Germany´s almost-champions

A huge flag-waving crowd gave Germany's not quite all-conquering football team a heroes' welcome in central Berlin on Monday despite their 1-0 defeat to Spain in the final of Euro 2008.

“Even if you are vice-champions it is worth celebrating,” said student Richard, 24, who drove for four hours from North-Rhine Westphalia to get to Berlin for Sunday's match – “which was definitely worth it,” he said.

“Lots of people came specially to Berlin for the match and now they are staying here for the team,” he said, one of around 100,000 fans who came to welcome Michael Ballack, Bastian Schweinsteiger and co at the Brandenburg Gate.

Coach Joachim Loew, appearing on stage to rock music by the White Stripes, used the occasion to pay tribute to Luis Aragones's team but vowed to put Spain to the sword next time the two teams meet.

“The Spanish were a very good team all through the championship. We have to recognise their quality,” Loew said.

But he added: “Should the Spanish come up again in a championship we will beat them.”

Ballack said meanwhile it was “always bitter” to lose a final — a feeling he is intimately acquainted both at Chelsea and former club Bayer Leverkusen — and paid tribute to German fans for their support.

“For practically every game the home supporters were always in the majority. And that is important for our team,” the 31-year-old captain said.

“It is still a young team and it is very, very important that particularly in difficult phases of the game to have the support, and in many, many games that was fantastic.”

The atmosphere in Germany on Sunday for the match had been electric.

Some 600,000 had massed at the “Fan Mile” at the Brandenburg Gate to watch with horror on huge screens as their team fell at the final hurdle of the three-week-long championship.

Berlin and other cities had been transformed into raucous seas of flags, wigs and Hawaiian-style necklaces – all in the German black, red and gold – for the nail-biting finale beamed in live from Vienna.

Huge crowds had turned out under sunny skies to cheer “Deutschland! Deutschland!” in an orgy of flag-waving national pride in a country now much more comfortable with patriotism ever since the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Tens of millions had been glued to their televisions as the country ground to a halt, with even German car makers like Daimler, Volkswagen and Audi shutting down production so their workers could follow the game.

Some 72 percent of fans had predicted victory for Germany, according to a poll in the mass circulation Bild am Sonntag.

But it was not to be, with Spanish striker Fernando Torres's 33-minute stunner enough to win his team its first silverware in 44 years.

In contrast to Madrid where fans partied through the night, central Berlin emptied swiftly after the game as despondent fans headed back home – hopeful, however, that their team can do better in 2010 in South Africa.

The city's police, which had deployed 1,600 extra officers for the game, arrested 65 people but said on the whole the event had passed off peacefully.

The only major incident reported was in Lower Saxony in the economically depressed east, where 25 police were injured in clashes with drunken, disappointed fans. Sixty people were arrested here alone.

“Of course, they make mistakes and sometimes are too excited, but they are going to win next time in 2010,” Dennis, an 18-year-old stone masons apprentice, told AFP on Monday.

Mon 30 June, 2008
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