Late Italian goals dash German Cup dreams
BERLIN, July 5 (Reuters) Germany's dreams of winning the World Cup were shattered yesterday, leaving the host nation in a state of despair, as Italy scored twice late in extra time to reach the final after a 12-year absence.
The match was an absorbing affair with both teams playing at a rapid pace in the evening heat at Dortmund's Westfalenstadion and creating numerous chances they failed to convert.
That changed with two minutes left in extra time, as Italian defender Fabio Grasso received a perfectly-weighted pass in the area from midfielder Andrea Pirlo and curled a fantastic shot past the outstretched fingers of German keeper Jens Lehmann.
The goal silenced a partisan crowd of 65,000, which had been cheering wildly for nearly two hours in the hope that their national ''Mannschaft'' could continue an unlikely run that had whipped the entire country into a patriotic feel-good fervour.
As Germany battled desperately for a last second equaliser, Italy struck again. Substitute striker Alessandro Del Piero fired home with the last kick of the game, slipping a right-foot shot inside the far post after a pass from Alberto Gilardino.
''This is the realisation of a dream,'' said Italy coach Marcello Lippi after his team's deserved 2-0 victory.
Back home Italians poured on to the streets after the win, waving flags, blaring horns and celebrating their first return to the finals since 1994 when they lost to Brazil.
For many, Italy's victory was a welcome break from a domestic match-fixing scandal that has dominated the headlines and could end up with the relegation of several top Serie A clubs to the second or even third division.
''This win is very important for Italian soccer, especially given the scandal,'' said Ricardo Gonzalez, a teacher in Rome.
''It shows that Italian soccer is still alive -- despite everything.'' Italy play the winners of Wednesday's match between France and Portugal in the July 9 final in Berlin's Olympiastadion.
HUGE DISAPPOINTMENT For the thousands of Germans who had donned the national colours of black, red and gold in recent weeks in an outpouring of patriotism unseen in the post-war era, the result was a huge disappointment.
Coach Juergen Klinsmann's side were given little chance of going far when the tournament began, but after sweeping through the first round and overcoming Argentina in the quarter-finals on Friday, Germany had begun to look like a team of destiny.
''We are hugely disappointed,'' Klinsmann said. ''It's amazing the spirit (the team) showed, the character. They made a whole country really proud.'' Germany had never beaten Italy in their four previous competitive matches including the 1982 World Cup final, but they headed into the match with an unbeaten streak in Dortmund dating back 71 years.
With German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi looking on from the stands, fans unleashed deafening cries of ''Deutschland, Deutschland'' throughout the match in the hopes that streak would continue.
An estimated one million viewers crammed into the Berlin ''Fan Mile'' viewing area near the Brandenburg Gate, while tens of thousands more sprawled out in the capital's parks and beer gardens.
German soccer great Franz Beckenbauer said he hoped the loss would not end the nation's feel-good mood, but voices from the street told another story.
''I am gutted,'' said Daniela Trenker, a tearful 21-year old Berlin student. ''I am going to support whoever plays Italy in the finals. This is the worst night of my life.'' Reuters DH VP0525