By Sam Wilson
BBC News, Dortmund
So the dream ends for Germany in the cruellest fashion.
Germany fans had started to believe they could go all the way
The host nation stood on the verge of a glorious final in Berlin, until two late goals from Italy pitched them out of the competition.
There was shock among Germans in Dortmund at their most sudden of deaths, and a few tears, but ultimately, pride in their team.
"It is very sad to end like this, because we really thought Germany could do it now," says Matthias Brucker, standing in Dortmund's Friedenplatz.
Half an hour before, thousands of Germans were packed into every corner of the square, or hanging out of nearby windows, urging their heroes on the big screen to score a late winner or finish the Italians on penalties.
But within seconds of Italy's second goal, the local fans streamed through the exits, and now the square is much emptier, but for the debris, and clusters of noisy Italians.
"I'm really proud of the German national team," Matthias says.
"They played so well, and to get to the semi-finals is more than we expected. So I'm really proud and I don't understand the people who leave so quickly."
The irony is that for a long time Germany was prepared for defeat at the World Cup.
The team suffered a string of poor results before the tournament, and coach Jurgen Klinsmann came under heavy criticism.
Germans were resigned to an embarrassing capitulation on home turf.
But at the World Cup itself they have been a different team, winning convincingly and getting the nation behind them.
Such fervour is unheard of, Germans say, and the ubiquitous display of national colours unprecedented.
Germans had started to believe they could go all the way. And it is for this reason that not everyone agrees with Matthias.
"If you're in the stage we were at now you have to get to the final. I was even planning to go to Berlin. I'm not going now," says Felix Kamp, 20, who admits "crying like a baby".
He is still distressed at the result, thumping the side of a fast food van and repeating: "It's not fair."
There are groups of Germans scattered around the square, sitting quietly, forlornly, and other individuals wandering alone, aimlessly.
But at the bars round the edge of the square there are plenty of Germans laughing, smiling, even dancing.
There is even some black, red and gold visible in the blue, green, white and red conga that is circling in one corner of the square.
"We'll have a party with the Italian people and the German people who are in a good mood, and we will have a lot of fun tonight," says German fan Mareke Bauer.
"Germany played very well, it's a fantastic team. I think in 2010 we will be world champions. But here the Italian team was better, it was a fair match."
'Spoiling the party'
The Italians, of course, need no encouragement to party.
"We were the better team in the game and finally we won - so we spoil the party of the Germans!" enthuses Daniel Cacchio, an Italian who lives in Essen, not far from Dortmund.
Italy fans could barely believe their team's triumph
"We'll go to Berlin. We'll go tomorrow I think, though we don't have tickets. Perhaps we'll get some.
"I don't think anyone can beat Italy now. Tonight I'm going to make the fourth star for my shirt," he says, rubbing in the fact that Italy now have a tilt at a fourth world title, which would take them clear of Germany, who have three.
Ludovico Megalini says it is "wonderful... an incredible emotion for me".
"I can't believe it now - maybe tomorrow when I wake up. I can think only of Sunday now.
"The Germans can go home but we're going to party, we're going to drink their beer and eat their sausages. It's great to celebrate in Germany after beating Germany."
The victory is especially welcome, he says, because of the match-fixing imbroglio back in Italy, in which four top clubs are accused of bribing referees.
Most Italian fans, it seems, think a World Cup victory would be a chance to show what is good in Italian football. They insist it would not be used to brush the scandal aside.
"It's like a nice story," Ludovico says. "The national team is the only clean thing, the only light. So we will win the World Cup just to show that Italy is not that dirty. We need it, a fairy tale."
There is to be no fairy tale ending for the World Cup hosts, but Germans say their country has come a long way during the tournament, and no-one involved will ever forget the experience.
It is perhaps best summed up by a German who left to live in Ireland 10 years ago, and barely recognises what he finds on his return.
The atmosphere in his native land is "absolutely outstanding - incredible - I am just overwhelmed. I never thought I would see it like this," says Stephan Preiss.
"This is something they can remember for years and years. It should make everybody very proud."