Berlin: German newspapers on Thursday mourned the country`s 1-0 World Cup semi-final loss to Spain and wondered what happened to the scintillating team that captured the nation`s hearts with their goal-filled run to the last four.
There was a mixture of admiration for Spain`s dominance in Wednesday`s match in Durban but also a sense of bewilderment about what suddenly went so wrong for a side that put four goals past England and then Argentina in the previous two rounds.
"Aus der Traum" (The Dream is Over), the best-selling daily Bild wrote in giant letters on its front page. "Caramba, were Spain good! They deserved to win. But we`re proud of our lads."
In its match analysis, the paper said:
"We lacked courage and cleverness. We didn`t see any of the `made-in-Germany` football that had so enthralled the world in the previous matches. Too much respect for the big names? Or were our heroes crippled by the high expectations?"
The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) newspaper also put it succinctly in its page one banner headline: "Spain too strong, Germany now aims for third place."
FAZ columnist Michael Horeni wrote: "Spain were too strong an opponent to allow Germany, in their 12th semi-final appearance, to advance to a World Cup final for an eighth time.
"In the duel, Germany were quickly put on the defensive and never able to unleash their refreshing style of attacking football that worked so well against England and Argentina. The Spanish original was simply better than the young challengers."
Der Tagesspiegel in Berlin, like many newspapers, splashed pictures of German fans weeping uncontrollably after the match. Some 350,000 supporters watched on giant screens in central Berlin with another 50,000 at Munich`s Olympic Stadium.
"First high hopes, then huge disappointment," Der Tagesspiegel wrote. "Germans were in a state of shock when Spain scored. You could see the horror etched in the faces of the hundreds of thousands of fans watching at the fan mile."
Millions of fans have packed public viewing venues. Dropping their normal reluctance to wave flags, Germany supporters wrapped themselves in the country`s black, red and gold and celebrated with an unprecedented level of patriotism.
Some in Germany wanted to blame Paul, an oracle octopus who had correctly picked the winners of their first five World Cup matches. Paul shocked the country on Tuesday by picking Spain. Some Germans now want to see Paul publicly barbecued.
A record TV audience of 31.1 million (83 percent of the market share) watched in Germany, topping the previous record of 29.6 million for the 2006 semi-final. Another 12 million watched at public viewing venues around Germany.
Daily Die Welt wrote: "This young team played their way into our hearts with elegance rather than drive. The multi-cultural team changed Germany. We used to be a land of complainers and pessimists. We`re a different country now."
Guenter Netzer, an analyst for ARD television, agreed Germany played poorly. The normally difficult-to-please pundit had been astonished by their performances in the last two matches and almost sounded resigned to their fate.
"It`s impossible to keep getting better all the time," Netzer said. "After England and Argentina it would have been just too incredible if there had been a further improvement against Spain. It would have been eerie."