WOITALLA: The Dortmund boost fails Germany

By Mike Woitalla
in Dortmund

If Bruce Springsteen were German, he'd write songs about Dortmund.

The Ruhr city was once a leading producer of steel, coal and beer, but its last coal mine closed two decades ago, the last blast furnace folded in 2001, and the eight  breweries that once produced a tenth of Germany's beer have dwindled to two.

What is left is soccer.

The titles may pile up in Bayern, but the biggest crowds and the heart and soul of the German game is here in the Ruhr region.

Legend has it the fans in the steep south-end stand of the Westfalen Stadium can will the ball into the net for their team. It seemed that way when Germany beat Poland here in the first round, scoring in stoppage time for a 1-0 win. So the Germans looked forward to playing their semifinal against Italy in their favorite venue.

The magic of the Westfalen Stadium, where the Germans had never lost in their previous 13 games, was to sweep them past the Italians, previously undefeated against Germany in World Cup play.

But none of Italy's previous five opponents had managed to score on it at this World Cup. In the 1-1 tie with the USA, Cristian Zaccardo scored an own  goal.

The crowd didn't disappoint. Never was there a lull in the cheering, as during Germany's quarterfinal win over Argentina in Berlin.

When Mexican referee Benito Archundia blew the halftime whistle, the crowd was chanting so loud the players couldn't hear it and kept playing until they saw him point to the middle.

But the Germans, whose run to the semifinal had provided most of this tournament's excitement, couldn't solve the Italian defense, finishing with only two shots on goal to Italy's 10. On their few opportunities, Lukas Podalski's shots went wide or to goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. Bernd Schneider shot high from 12 yards. Tournament-leading scorer Miroslav Klose battled, hit some promising passes, but couldn't get off a single shot of his own.

Late in the second half, the Italians, who would have the ball for 57 percent of this game, began dominating possession. Two minutes into overtime, they hit the post from close range (Alberto Gilardino) and the crossbar from long distance (Gianluca Zambrotta).

With two minutes left, the game looked headed to penalty kicks, a promising prospect for the Germans, who had never failed in a World Cup shootout. But left back Fabio Grosso, who had scored only two goals in his last 90 games for Palermo, took a pass from Andrea Pirlo and curled an unstoppable 11-yard shot past goalie Jens Lehmann.

In stoppage time, Alessandro Del Piero broke through to score a second, giving Italy a 2-0 win.

Most of the German players fell to the grass. But after the crowd began cheering again, they got on their feet, toured the entire field slowly while applauding and saluting the crowd.

Coach Juergen Klinsmann waited until the last German player headed to the tunnel, then left the Dortmund field.

"Of course, a loss like that is very hard to take," said Klinsmann. "But my players deserve a big compliment. They played with heart and spirit today and throughout the entire tournament.

"That's how it goes. It's why soccer is a fascinating game. And compliments to Italy. They're going to the final."

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