"Football's coming home," crowed Germany's media yesterday, twisting the knife in England's wounds by usurping the Euro 96 slogan. After six lean years, Berti Vogts' first major trophy as manager of the national squad was delivered to the fans shortly after noon.
The plane had been inexplicably delayed, like the winning goal in the final, but for the crowds on the tarmac it was worth waiting for. One by one the shattered players limped down the steps, goalie Andreas Kopke carrying the silverware, followed by the hobbling figure of Dieter Eilts, whose knee had turned rigid during Sunday's match.
Jurgen Klinsmann and company wore sober suits and sported a sober demeanour - no complaints from Lufthansa so far. But some of the fans had gone a long way towards emulating their English rivals in the previous night's wild celebrations. Riots erupted in several cities after the substitute Oliver Bierhoff scored his "golden goal".
In Dusseldorf, Essen and Berlin, intoxicated fans pelted police with bottles. In the depressed town of Herne in the Ruhr, they looted shops and overturned cars. One wonders what might have happened if Germany had lost.
Most fans admitted that on the night Germany had played poorly, and were a whisker away from defeat. "Great result, lousy play" was one typical comment. "Kaiser" Franz Beckenbauer, remembered for his style as much as his winning ways, did not hide his disappointment: "The German team were a long way from playing the most beautiful football," he said. "But they played efficiently."
There was, fortunately, one beautiful moment to savour in the 95th minute: Klinsmann's pass, Bierhoff's twisting and turning, the strike, and then the ball's slow journey off the goalkeeper's hands across the line that appeared to last an eternity. The German television commentator was caught speechless. "Bierhoff shoots...Oh, Germany are European champions," he shouted seconds later, his voice betraying total disbelief.
That was the signal for throaty renditions of "We are the Champions" in every bierkeller in the country. Fortified by alcohol, thousands spilled into the streets, defying Germany's strict laws on silence after 10pm.
Cars hooted their horns in the Ku'damm, Berlin's main shopping street; fans packed the central square of Dortmund, home to the Bundesliga champions for the second successive season, and the beer halls of Munich stayed open until the early hours.
Thousands more were waving flags yesterday at Frankfurt's main square, the Romer, to welcome the conquering heroes. Frankfurt had yearned for success more than any other town. Eintracht, one of the founders of the Bundesliga, were relegated at the end of last season, their failure due in no small measure to soft goals let in Kopke.
The entire city yesterday appeared to have congregated in front of the red-brick town hall. Somebody had misplaced the trophy, but the team provided plenty of entertainment, probably more than during the final's 95 minutes and the heart-stopping 120 minutes against England.
Klinsmann orchestrated the fixture, as he had done in the past three weeks. Grabbing the microphone on the balcony, he set off: "It's coming home, it's coming home. Football's coming home." With that over, the bottles were finally opened, and the players went inside to be congratulated by dignitaries.
All this was broadcast live on television. ZDF, the second channel, had thrown out its schedule, devoting the entire day to replays, commentary, interviews and in-depth reporting of the homecoming.
Politicians jostled to bask in the glory, led by Helmut Kohl. Any suspicions that the corpulent Chancellor's knowledge of football was somewhat limited were dispelled by his forecast. Mr Kohl had correctly predicted the final score, although he had failed to budget for extra time.
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