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Heroes' welcome for Germany's almost-champions

AFP · 30 Jun 2008, 14:20

Published: 30 Jun 2008 14:20 GMT+02:00

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"Even if you are vice-champions it is worth celebrating," said student Richard, 24, who drove for four hours from the German state of 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.

Huge crowds were in place to welcome Joachim Löw's team around the historic Brandenburg Gate, where some 600,000 people had watched Sunday's match beamed in live from Vienna onto giant screens. A fire truck at Berlin's Tegel airport, however, sprayed down the wrong jet in an attempt to welcome the team.

Berlin and other cities had been raucous seas of flags, wigs and Hawaiian-style necklaces - all in the German black, red and gold - for the nail-biting game, the climax to three weeks of summer football fever.

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 automakers like Daimler, Volkswagen and Audi shutting down production so their workers could follow the game.

Some 72 percent of fans had predicted victory for Michael Ballack, Bastian Schweinsteiger and company, 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.

"The team fought well but it was not enough," Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said on Monday.

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.

"We were third in the World Cup, now second in the European Championship. But the next World Cup we are going to win," 25-year-old Fred predicted after the game, his cheek painted in the national colours.

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The city's police, which had deployed 1,600 extra officers for the game, arrested just 65 people and said that 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.

Merkel herself, a regular feature in the stands ever since the 2006 World Cup, was in the stands in Vienna on Sunday along with President Horst Köhler but was not in Berlin to meet the team, her spokesman said.

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