Leading article: Auf Wiedersehen, and thank you

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There is a sense in which neither France nor Italy emerged the real victor from the World Cup last night, but Germany. The host nation, which amazed and delighted itself with its creditable third place, amazed and delighted the rest of the world as well.

This was a joyous festival of sport, conducted, with rare exceptions, in the very best of spirits. The organisation was exemplary, as might have been expected from a country renowned for its precision engineering. Less expected was the relaxed hospitality Germany extended to its visitors and the unembarrassed enthusiasm with which Germans cheered on their team. The final, in the Olympic stadium of a unified Berlin, exorcised many ghosts.

Germany is the latest, but perhaps most remarkable, example of the transforming power of great sporting events in a world that can be brought together as never before, thanks to mass air travel and television. Four years ago, Japan and South Korea made the orient less inscrutable. Eight years ago France showed that it could overcome its ethnic divisions, if only temporarily. And while the Olympic Games may not always pay their way, few host cities have drawn no benefit.

Germany offers a lesson in openness for Beijing when it hosts the Olympics in 2008; a lesson in efficiency with a light touch for London in 2012; and the hope of an uplifting experience for all when World Cup football reconvenes in South Africa in four years' time.

When Germany and Costa Rica kicked off in Munich one month ago, few would have believed that the world would be taking its leave from Germany with such regret. We say "Auf Wiedersehen" with a genuine desire to meet again.

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