It was a humiliation many found too much to bear. 'A bitter pill]' proclaimed Bild, the country's largest-selling popular daily. 'We are out. Defeated by Bulgaria - a team that, instead of training, liked to lounge around by the pool, eating chips and sun-bathing. Defeated by our own nerves.'
That the country's seemingly invincible heroes had been knocked out of the competition by the little-rated Bulgarians simply rubbed salt in the wound. But after the initial shock of Sunday night's defeat, the knives came out for the team manager, Berti Vogts.
Despite receiving a vote of confidence from the German football federation yesterday, the onslaught against Vogts is being spearheaded in the popular press, with Bild leading the field. In a front page article appearing today, the paper calls on Vogts to do the decent thing and resign now. Inside, it will detail '10 terrible errors' that led to such an unusually early exit.
'For us, this is a great disaster,' Klaus-Peter Witt, of the paper's sports desk, said. 'We consider ourselves a tournament team - and one of the best in the world. To have gone out in the semi-final might have been acceptable. But the quarter-final - that is a failure.'
There is already widespread agreement that mistakes were made in the United States. Many Germans feel the squad should have contained more fresh faces and not been so reliant on the old stalwarts of the triumphant 1990 campaign in Italy. Many feel, too, that the players available were not deployed as well as they could have been.
There was a sense that the squad was jinxed from the start and not happy in itself - as seen by the row that broke out over Stefan Effenberg, suspended from the team after an abusive gesture to the crowd during a qualifying match.
But despite the disappointment of Sunday's defeat, there was also a strange sense that perhaps it was not so surprising after all. As one commentator put it: 'The will to win simply wasn't there. After receiving three black eyes in the qualifying round, we barely deserved to get much further than we did.'
For most of the fans who gathered in bars to watch the game, the euphoria when Germany took the lead quickly turned sour. But few felt the defeat was unjust. Gerhardt, a Berliner, conceded that his team had played well below par. 'It was very annoying. But we can't really expect to reach the final every time. There are other good teams too. And there is always 1998.'
The former German manager and captain, Franz Beckenbauer, last night said it was 'out of the question' that he would return as coach to replace Berti Vogts, who has criticised his goalkeeper, Bodo Illgner. 'The only mistake I made was deciding against Andreas Kopke (in goal),' Vogts said. 'I put my trust in Bodo Illgner's experience and was disappointed.' Illgner, who retired from internationals after the game, was at fault for the Bulgarian equaliser.Reuse content