Agony of 'world's best goalkeeper'

OLIVER KAHN

June 30, 2002

Even the referee went to console him at the end. German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn had turned from invincible to vanquished in the space of a split second.

He stood alone in his goal after the final whistle, then threw away his gloves, leaned on the right post and as well of the referee was consoled by every teammate and Brazilian captain Cafu.

Only hours hours after being named the best World Cup goalkeeper, captain Kahn had turned into the tragic hero of the World Cup within an instant 66 minutes into the Germany's final with Brazil.

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The man who had almost singlehandedly steered Germany into the final by conceding just one goal in six games made his only blunder, arguably costing his team the cup as Brazil went on to win 2-0.

Kahn failed to hold onto a fierce drive from Rivaldo, leaving Ronaldo with as easy strike for the opening goal.

Ronaldo scored for a second time later on as the world's best striker prevailed over the world's best goalie.

"There is no consolation," said a clearly upset Kahn.

"It was the only mistake I made in seven games and it was brutally punished."

He could have blamed the mishap on a torn ligament in his finger sustained a few minutes earlier -- but he did not.

At 33, the Bayern Munich man knows he is running out of World Cups.

Ironically, the German goalkeeper had twice foiled Ronaldo in the first half, setting up Germany with a good chance of a victory.

"Of course it's bitter when you make a mistake in the final, I think it was the only mistake in the tournament -- it's 10 times as bitter," Kahn said. "I had to hold that ball. But life has to go on."

Kahn wasn't the only one to blame for the goal.

The sturdy German defence, which had allowed only one goal in the previous six World Cup games, also lost concentration for a moment, but it was enough for the Brazilians to strike.

Midfielder Dietmar Hamann allowed himself to be dispossessed just in front of the area by Ronaldo. Thomas Linke made a halfhearted attempt to block Rivaldo, turning sideways as the Brazilian took the shot with no German defender trying to follow Ronaldo.

Arguably Kahn had kept Germany in the tournament with stirring performances against Ireland and Cameroon.

"There's no criticism on our side," German coach Voeller said. "Oliver played a dream World Cup, he stopped amazing shots. The mistake he made on the first goal was minor."

In the end it was a case of a great tournament turning sour for Kahn.

As the final ended and the Brazilians ran all over the field to celebrate, Kahn leaned on the left post and stared straight ahead.

Voeller and his teammates came to console him, but he just kept staring, alone with his thoughts, true to the old saying that goalkeepers are the loneliest men on the field.

Kahn then sat down, his back to the post, spending a few more minutes deep in thought.

Finally he got up, walking slowly away. Hearing the cheers of German fans, he turned around and applauded. As the award ceremony unfolded, he walked dejectedly ahead of his team as the captain to be the first to receive the silver medal.

As the jubilant Brazilians walked up the podium to lift the trophy, Kahn stood apart from the rest of his teammates, watching with a stone face. Voeller then walked over, put his arm around the goalie's shoulder and spoke to him.

Kahn barely acknowledged and kept staring into the distance.

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