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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 June, 2004, 08:23 GMT 09:23 UK
Great survivors put to the sword

By Phil McNulty
BBC Sport in Lisbon

RUDI VOELLER FACTFILE
Ex-Germany coach Rudi Voeller
Born: 13/04/60
International caps: 90
International goals: 47
1990: Wins World Cup
2000: Named Germany coach
2002: Germany lose World Cup final
2004: Resigns at Euro 2004
Rudi Voeller's sombre mood reflected the feelings of a footballing nation coming to terms with the shock of mediocrity as Germany crashed out of Euro 2004.

And his departure, just hours after his team's humiliating exit, was the inevitable outcome of his team's ill-starred European campaign.

World football's great survivors, normally able to escape from the most perilous position, had fallen into a trap laid by a second-string Czech Republic side resting key players for bigger battles ahead.

It was a sight barely believable - unless you had actually watched one of the worst Germany teams in recent history try to force the win they needed to progress.

True, the Czechs relied on a liberal sprinkling of luck and abysmal German finishing - plus a classic counter punch from Liverpool's Milan Baros - to become the only team to go through to the last eight with a 100% record.

But Germany had their good fortune when they saw a Czech starting line-up missing Baros, Pavel Nedved, Karel Poborsky, Vladimir Smicer, Tomas Rosicky, Jan Koller and Petr Cech.

The gift horse rode into town and Germany stared into its mouth because they are not good enough any more to take advantage.

And when coach Voeller said "the future looks bleak momentarily because we cannot match the big footballing nations", they were words that will have stuck in the former World Cup winning striker's throat.

The irony of the manner of Germany's fall from grace will not have been lost on Voeller.

The main failing for his team has been the lack of a top-class goalscorer - how they needed a player in the mould of the manager, who scored more than a goal every second game during an illustrious international career in the 1980s and '90s.

Michael Ballack and Germany coach Rudi Voeller
Germany were beaten by what was effectively a reserve team
Voeller himself remains a hero in Germany - part of a glorious goalscoring lineage that also takes in Gerd Mueller, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Jurgen Klinsmann.

The 2004 vintage, with journeymen like Freddie Bobic and Kevin Kuranyi leading the line, do not stand comparison with their illustrious predecessors.

Voeller added that this exit was not the "debacle and humiliation of four years ago" - a statement which qualifies as the best piece of straw-clutching at Euro 2004.

But he knew the ignominious manner of the defeat in Lisbon would spell the end of his four years in charge and resigned before his bosses could sack him.

Voeller is a sympathetic figure who was loathe to criticise his players.

And sure enough, he mounted a stout defence of their inadequate efforts.

An example of damning with faint praise was his words about Stuttgart striker Kuranyi, whose radar was trained on anything other than Jaromir Blazek's goal.

"He worked hard but has certain deficiencies when it comes to scoring goals and shooting at goal," Voeller said.

Whoever replaces Voeller and leads Germany into the 2006 World Cup on home soil, will have a major rebuilding job to do.

His decision to quit looked inevitable after the game in Lisbon, as a decent but downcast man was clearly pondering his next move.

Germany should have won, but they failed against a virtual Czech Republic reserve side. In days gone by victory would have been achieved by whatever means.

Michael Ballack
The brilliant Ballack aside, Germany had little to get excited about

Voeller's first-half tactics were a mystery, with often only one man going into the area and too much reliance on the brilliant Michael Ballack.

Ballack was the best player on the pitch, a signpost to a brighter future, while youngsters Lukas Podolski and Bastian Schweinsteiger also showed promise.

But elsewhere this was a German team that was a desperate shadow of the great machines of days gone by.

Oliver Kahn was a fading force in goal, while defender Jens Nowotny now looks an ageing warhorse.

Torsten Frings and Liverpool's Dietmar Hamann, who was bitterly disappointing, are ripe to be served up as scapegoats to a frustrated footballing nation.

Ballack was magnificent, carrying his colleagues, scoring and creating - but the lack of quality around him, especially in attack, and the ponderous nature of the team hardly bodes well for 2006.

Nothing goes on forever, not even that German habit of scrapping their way through to the closing stages of major tournaments.

It does not happen often, but Germany now have their noses pressed up against the window as the big players of European football move on into the last eight of Euro 2004.

And for Voeller, faced with a painful choice, decided he was not the man to put pride back into a fallen super-power.





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SEE ALSO
Voeller quits Germany role
24 Jun 04 |  Germany


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