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  Thursday, 16 May, 2002, 01:05 GMT 02:05 UK
The nearly men
Toppmoller walks by the Champions League trophy
Toppmoller walks by the Champions League trophy

Bayer Leverkusen coach Klaus Toppmoller perfectly described the high point of their Champions League campaign as "a time for cigarettes and drinking".

It was in the after-glow of a semi-final win against Manchester United, when the colourful, chain-smoking Toppmoller prepared to party in style.

If that was a time for cigarettes and drinking, it is difficult to imagine what the tortured Toppmoller had in mind after the Champions League Final defeat against Real Madrid.

Cigarettes and drink would have been in order for the most clean-living men after the Germans confirmed their reputation as "Bayer Neverkusen" with another near miss with glory.


You don't always get the rewards you deserve in football
Klaus Toppmoller
Toppmoller puffed his way through a packet or three as Bayer gifted Real their first goal through Raul, fought their way back into contention through Lucio, then saw their dreams dashed by Zinedine Zindane's brilliance.

And Toppmoller's lavish hairstyle was clouded in smoke as Bayer somehow failed to profit from an incessant spell of pressure in injury time as Real hung on.

"Congratulations to runners-up Bayer Leverkusen" will have sounded like a familiar refrain and a haunting lament as the Hampden Park announcer offered scant consolation to European football's most gallant losers.

Runners-up in the Champions League. Runners-up in the Bundesliga. Runners-up in the German cup.

Toast

Runners-up in almost every competition they have entered in recent times.

Toppmoller put on his bravest face as he said: "We have come second again, but if someone had said we would be second in the Champions League when we started this, they would have thought it was mad.

"I am proud of what we have achieved this season, but we have played so hard and it hurts us to end with nothing.

"I think what we have achieved this season has been almost impossible given the problems we have had.

Toppmoller salutes his players
Toppmoller salutes his players
"The disappointment is huge - you don't always get the rewards you deserve in football, and no-one knows that better than us after what we have been through.

"We must seek consolation. Doing what we have done means we have had a very good season - but what has happened to us is difficult and makes us feel bitter."

Toppmoller was both bitter and mild in defeat - fitting for a man who talked about a time for drinking.

But Bayer's performance against Real only confirmed their Champions League pedigree, and if Toppmoller took a drink, it should have been a toast to a small town team who took on the big boys and almost won.

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