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Goalie Mistake Costs Germany Dearly

June 30, 2002

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YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) _ As the ball slipped through the surest hands in the world, the World Cup went with it.

A half-hour later, Oliver Kahn sat by his goal line, leaning back against the post, knees drawn up to his chest. With a stern look, he watched Brazil celebrate, staring straight ahead and wondering what could have been.

``No, I don’t think I can be consoled,″ he said later.

Kahn’s long blond sideburns rose and fell as he spoke and chewed gum. It was as if he were trying to get rid of a bad taste.

Brazil went ahead in the 67th minute of Sunday’s World Cup final because Kahn, the world’s greatest goalkeeper, allowed Rivaldo’s dipping, 20-yard shot to bounce off his hands and chest.

For all the great saves he made against Brazil _ and in the entire tournament _ he’ll be remembered for the ball that got away.

As it hit the damp turf and rolled on the drizzly night, Kahn crawled on his hands and knees to try to get it back, desperately trying to haul in his mistake, knowing what was about to happen.

But no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t get there fast enough. Ronaldo, whom he had thwarted twice in the first half, reached the ball 6 yards from the goal and slid it under Kahn’s outstretched left hand.

Kahn, sprawled on his stomach, had the best view of the ball hitting the back of the net.

Ronaldo went on to beat him again 12 minutes later, on a shot Kahn had no chance to stop as he dived to his left and completely rolled over. Kahn slowly walked back to the net and kicked the ball out. Brazil had a 2-0 victory and its record fifth title was assured.

Kahn tried to put everything in perspective after the game, but when he did, his words sounded hollow.

``The memories of this World Cup will be very good,″ he said, ``and cannot be destroyed by an unlucky goal.″

Kahn’s acrobatics for Germany and Bayern Munich have earned him acclaim. For a month, he had been nearly unbeatable, making stellar diving saves that helped eliminate the United States in the quarterfinals and South Korea in the semis. Before the final, he was given the Yashin Trophy, awarded to the tournament’s best goalkeeper.

His save on Rivaldo was his 25th in a row over 427 straight shutout minutes since he allowed his first goal of the tournament to Ireland’s Robbie Keane.

But in the biggest moment of his career, with nearly one-third of the planet watching, the German captain gave up a terrible rebound _ albeit on a shot off one of the planet’s most talented left feet.

``I am fully aware that this is the only mistake I made in the seven matches of the World Cup,″ Kahn said. ``That one mistake was brutally punished.″

After the final whistle, he seemed stunned, as if he couldn’t believe that Germany didn’t win, kicking a water bottle and throwing down his gloves in disgust. He then slumped on his left post, unable or unwilling to move.

Teammate Torsten Frings came back to the goal area and put a hand around Kahn’s neck. German coach Rudi Voeller walked over and said a few words.

``We owe a lot to Oliver Kahn, who did some fantastic things,″ Voeller said. ``Oliver played a dream World Cup. He stopped amazing shots.″

Even the referee, Italy’s Pierluigi Collina, tried to help him deal with the pain. Kahn sat down, drew up his knees and kept on staring, at times looking near tears.

After defender Thomas Linke spoke to him, Kahn got up, turned around and applauded the German fans behind his net, then led his team to the podium to accept the second-place medals.

He stood away from his teammates, expressionless, as Brazil captain Cafu lifted the trophy Kahn thought he would be raising. Voeller then walked over and put an arm around his shoulder.

``There is no way you can be comforted,″ Kahn said. ``Words of consolation have no effect in such a place.″

When Kahn spoke after the game, his right hand was wrapped in a bandage. He tore a ligament in his right ring finger, possibly when Gilberto Silva kicked the hand seven minutes into the second half, but he wouldn’t blame the goal on the injury.

``Of course it’s bitter when you make a mistake in the final,″ he said. ``It’s 10 times as bitter.″

He’s 33, and it’s possible he could be back for another World Cup. He can win more European Champions Cups with his club. But the ball that bounced away, a play that will be showed over and over until the soccer world meets again for the 2006 tournament in Germany, made it impossible for him to think beyond Sunday.

``Looking to the future is too hard to do tonight,″ he said. ``There’s no consolation, but we have to go on.″

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