- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 9, 2006

STUTTGART, Germany — Fireworks thundered, and flashbulbs popped all around the darkened stadium, illuminating the German players’ brilliant white shirts and the thousands of flags that waved in their honor. Fans screamed and sang for an hour afterward, savoring the lingering moments as hosts of the World Cup.

And that was after the consolation game.

Germany took third place yesterday in the World Cup, beating Portugal 3-1 on two sensational goals by Bastian Schweinsteiger. He also set up the third, when his free kick was deflected in for an own-goal by Portugal’s Armando Petit.

“We wanted to give our best to our fans,” German coach Juergen Klinsmann said. “It’s a phenomenal end to our tournament.”

It was also a far cry from playing in today’s final in Berlin, an honor that belongs to France and Italy. But at least it gave the home fans one last chance to party, and they embraced the opportunity, locking arms, waving flags and serenading their national heroes as they circled the field at Gottlieb-Damlier stadium.

Imagine the mayhem if Germany had made the final and played this well.

“It’s very difficult to sum up the game because it was very emotional for us,” Klinsmann said.

The once-controversial coach turned a Teutonic defending style into creative, attacking soccer, winning over German fans and media along the way as his team advanced. The only nagging question now is whether Klinsmann, who lives in California, stays with the national team.

Even the tabloid Bild, his biggest critic a month ago, is leading a write-in campaign to keep him. The newspaper Berliner Kurier carried the headline: “Klinsi, please stay.”

Klinsmann, for his part, remained noncommittal.

“I need some days to think about it,” he said.

Schweinsteiger’s two goals were almost identical, and they energized the game — just as Germany has done for the country’s national pride.

In the 56th, he retreated from the corner of the penalty area on the left side and worked to the middle of the field. From 25 yards he launched the ball without rotation, a frozen blast beyond the reach of a leaping goalkeeper Ricardo.

Six minutes later, the midfielder, who didn’t start in the 2-0 loss to Italy in the semifinals, set up the own-goal as Petit deflected his free kick behind Ricardo.

In the 78th, Schweinsteiger again sent a rising shot sailing over Ricardo’s hands. With that he yanked off his shirt, drawing applause from the sellout crowd that included seven-time Formula One champion Michael Schumacher. It also drew a yellow card — a meaningless booking now.

“I’d like to have played the final, but we weren’t thinking about it,” said the Bayern Munich midfielder, who just finished a sub-par club season.

Added Klinsmann: “We won’t be sleeping tonight. We wanted this third place. I’m very proud of what the team delivered. We played with a lot of heart.”

The Germans have won the World Cup three times, and they are always a threat. They have reached the semifinals a record 11 times, and this is their third consolation prize.

Portugal failed to match its best World Cup, falling just short of the third-place finish in 1966. Eusebio, a member of that 1966 team, was on the bench — but couldn’t rally a victory.

“I feel satisfied and glad with the way things have turned out overall,” said Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, who won the World Cup four years ago with his native Brazil. He was trying to become the first to win it with two different countries.

“At the end, even by ending on a loss, we’re still one of the best four teams in the world. That’s a sort of title for us.”

The game marked the end of the international careers of 37-year-old German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn and 33-year-old Portugal winger Luis Figo.

Kahn played the entire game, his only action in this World Cup. Once the face of the national team, Kahn came into this tournament as a backup to Jens Lehmann but got the nod for this game with Lehmann’s blessing.

“It was a beautiful time, but you have to know when it’s over,” said Kahn, who led Germany to the 2002 final but then blundered in the championship loss to Brazil.

Figo came on as a substitute but had started every game before this one. He’s made 127 appearances for Portugal over 15 years and seemed displeased that Scolari didn’t start him in this game.

“It’s hard to go out like this,” he said.

Germany made five changes from the team that lost 2-0 to Italy, including captain Michael Ballack missing with a knee injury. Portugal made three from the side that fell to 1-0 to France.

Pauleta, Portugal’s all-time leading scorer who is the same age as Figo, also said it was time for him to bow out.

“Everything has a beginning and an end,” the striker said. “This is my end.”

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