Germany win more than just third place
Before the start of the 2006 FIFA World Cup, optimism was a rare commodity in Germany. Despite home advantage many fans were worried that Jurgen Klinsmann's men would not even make it past the group stage.
In the end their fears were to prove unfounded, as the hosts won not only five consecutive matches but also a good number of fans around the world, playing an attractive brand of attacking football. It took eventual winners Italy to halt their progress, with the Nationalmannschaft conceding two very late goals right at the end of extra time in the semi-final.
Despite not making it through to the Final in Berlin on 9 July, the host nation nevertheless ended their tournament on a high with a convincing 3-1 win over Portugal in the match for third place.
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"What this team achieved during the tournament is incredible," said Klinsmann after it was all over. "For the last seven or eight weeks every single day was emotionally charged. I find it hard to put into words just how the team managed to actually achieve what we had all dreamt of."
FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter was also fulsome in his praise, saying: "If you had said before the finals that Germany would have come third, everyone (there) would have been over the moon. Well done to the fans who made this team into what it is now."
The hosts' potential became apparent as early as the Opening Match on 9 June in Munich. Germany beat Costa Rica 4-2 with wonder strikes from Philipp Lahm and Torsten Frings making up for some early defensive frailties. Against Poland, at Dortmund's Westfalenstadion, the team again showed progress, and came away with a hard-fought yet fully deserved 1-0 victory thanks to an injury-time goal from substitute Oliver Neuville.
This 93rd-minute winner acted as a catalyst for the remainder of Germany's finals campaign. The group stages concluded with a convincing 3-0 defeat of Ecuador , who were resting a number of their regulars ahead of the Round of 16. Klinsmann's men showed no mercy, however, with Miroslav Klose grabbing two goals against the South Americans to close in on the adidas Golden Shoe - an accolade he would eventually secure with five goals.
Sweden swept away
Perhaps Germany's best performance came in the Round of 16 against Sweden . Lukas Podolski struck two early goals, with Klose the provider on both occasions. With a boisterous Munich crowd behind them, the game was in the bag after the first 15 minutes. This was one of a number of strong displays from 'Poldi', who finished the tournament on a high by winning the Gillette Best Young Player award .
For the quarter-final in Berlin's Olympiastadion, Argentina were lying in wait . The South Americans were many people's favourites to go all the way, having sailed through a tough opening group with a combination of attractive and ruthlessly efficient football. The game turned out to be a real tactical battle between two strong outfits, with Argentina taking the lead early in the second half through a Roberto Ayala header.
Klose equalised, also with a header, and so it went to extra time and finally penalties. The Germans managed to keep a cool head and convert their spot-kicks, leaving goalkeeper Jens Lehmann to grab the headlines by stopping two of Argentina's efforts.
The emotional high point of the campaign came in the semi-final against Italy in Dortmund on 4 July. For 120 minutes, Germany gave it all they had against the Azzurri, withstanding everything that coach Marcello Lippi's team threw at them.
This was the second consecutive game to go to extra time for Germany, and the tired hosts could do nothing to stop Italy surging forward in the 119th minute and breaking the deadlock through Fabio Grosso. With Germany out on their feet, Alessandro Del Piero put the game beyond their reach with a second goal in the dying seconds.
The host nation still had one last chance to thank their fans for their incredible support throughout the tournament, and this came with the bronze medal-securing victory over Portugal . The man of the match in Stuttgart's Gottlieb-Daimler-Stadion was undoubtedly Bastian Schweinsteiger, who scored two of the goals and set up the third.
Oliver Kahn also had a chance to bid farewell to international football and end his Germany career on a high note. "It was one of the most emotional moments I can remember, perhaps even the most emotional," the keeper said after the match.
Next on the agenda for Germany is the 2008 UEFA European Championship in Austria and Switzerland, with a new man at the helm. Joachim Low is taking over from Klinsmann, who announced he was stepping down on 12 July. Low, who had served as Klinsmann's No.2, has already set out his stall, saying: "I am delighted with my new job. It's a real challenge to carry on the good work that has been done so far.
"It's important to make sure that the youngsters' careers don't tail off now. We want to have a successful qualifying campaign, and our overall goal is to become European champions." A challenge indeed