'Rudi, we are the idiots of Europe,' say irate press

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The Independent Online

The front page of the German tabloid newspaper Bild carried the following headline yesterday: "Rudi, we are the idiots of Europe."

The front page of the German tabloid newspaper Bild carried the following headline yesterday: "Rudi, we are the idiots of Europe."

Hours after German papers hit the news stands with headlines about the national side's elimination from Euro 2004 after a 2-1 defeat to a team of Czech Republic second-stringers, Rudi Völler had announced his resignation.

Many papers acknowledged that the team had not deserved to advance, concluding that the side was missing the talent and drive that won three European Championships and three World Cups. Germany drew with the Netherlands and Latvia before losing to the Czechs and ending up third in Group D.

"The Czechs are dreaming of the European title. Germany are not internationally competitive anymore - two years before hosting the World Cup at home," Die Welt said. "That's the bitter truth from the night in Lisbon."

In Germany, as in England, any disappointing performance is hammered by the press, and this time it was no different. "1-2? You losers!" was the headline of Berlin's BZ.

The only players who escaped condemnation were Michael Ballack, who scored Germany's goal, the goalkeeper Oliver Kahn and the youth brigade that led a second-half charge in which Germany at least attacked with some spirit.

The midfielder Bernd Schneider was the main scapegoat. A stalwart of the team that reached the 2002 World Cup final, Schneider is symbolic of a group of veterans that disappointed. He wasted several chances on Wednesday that could have saved the match.

"Chief idiot! Schneider was the worst. Embarrassing, embarrassing, how he stumbled over the pitch," was the headline on another page in Bild.

Völler was criticised for holding on too long to veterans who did not perform, instead of trusting young players like the 19-year-olds Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski. The midfielder Philipp Lahm, 20, was hailed as arguably his country's best player behind Ballack.

"In Portugal he was far too late in going with the youth in Schweinsteiger and Podolski," Bild wrote of Völler.

The German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, said, "Now we need to prepare ourselves for 2006. It's now paramount to create a national team capable of competing at the highest level."

Völler was "one of the most upstanding sportsmen" he knew and his resignation could only be regretted, Schröder said.