Abrupt end to German football-fest

German football fans in Berlin react as they watch the Germany-Spain semi-final
Image caption The night ended in bitter disappointment for German football fans

Germans stood in stunned silence outside a crowded bar in Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg district as Spain's Carles Puyol delivered his bullet header in the 73rd minute of the World Cup semi-final.

Tears welled up in one fan's eyes and an elderly man thrust his fist through the air and shouted "Wie schade!" (What a shame!).

Another woman hid her face behind her hands and asked her friend in disbelief: "Was that a goal or was I imagining things?"

Sadly, she wasn't, and after Puyol's goal the young German squad struggled to regain momentum. Germany's dream of reaching the final quickly fizzled out.

'This is unfair'

About 1,000 people had gathered on the street outside the bar to watch the match on a huge screen.

Children clambered on top of telephone cabins to get a better view while hundreds of other fans squeezed onto the pavement, clinging onto their black, red and gold German flags for comfort.

Up until the second half, the German fans played their vuvuzelas, chanted "Deutschland" and drank beer to soothe their nerves, nervously optimistic.

And there were a few good chances.

In the 32nd minute, Piotr Trochowksi's low drive stretched Spain's goalkeeper Iker Casillas, leaving fans gasping for breath.

"Why did Thomas Mueller have to get suspended?" one fan grumbled, referring to the fact that Germany's 20 year-old rising star missed the semi-final.

But the European champions proved to have the upper hand, and for German fans the night ended in bitter disappointment.

"I'm so upset as I'd really hoped Germany would reach the final - we wanted to take on our Dutch rivals," said Markus, clutching his beer bottle.

"I'm still proud of our team though - they were young, fast and dynamic and did well to get so far," he added.

As the final whistle sounded, a few bottles were hurled onto the ground, and some fans screamed: "I can't believe it - no way - this is unfair."

Football fever

And within minutes, the bar emptied.

Dozens of people picked up the chairs that they'd carried from their homes to the pub and strolled off, some walking arm-in-arm.

Image caption "Psychic" Octopus Paul had again made a correct prediction before the match

"I've watched every Germany match and I really thought we'd make it to the final - I'm sad, I just feel so upset," said Karolin, as she packed up her chairs. "What are we going to do now that the football is over for us?"

For the past few weeks, Germany had been gripped by World Cup fever, and - helped by a heatwave - the country had been in party mode.

Germans had forgotten all their troubles - the government's unpopular austerity package, job fears - and football was the top priority.

Even Chancellor Angela Merkel, who jetted off to South Africa to watch Germany beat Argentina, was probably hoping the World Cup feel-good factor would boost her flagging popularity.

The euphoria was contagious. Most Germans didn't expect their team to do so well.

They thought the young squad didn't stand a chance against teams like England or Argentina. But after Germany beat England 4-1 and then thrashed Argentina 4-0 in last weekend's quarter-final, Joachim Low's team exceeded expectations.

And the young players were treated as national heroes back home.

Letter to fans

From villages in Bavaria to big cities like Cologne or Hanover, Germans gathered to watch the matches at public viewing areas.

In Berlin, more than 300,000 German fans packed into the so-called "Fan Mile" behind the Brandenburg Gate to watch the semi-final on giant screens, forming a sea of black, red and gold.

A few scuffles broke out after the match on Wednesday night when some German fans vented their anger over their team's defeat.

"Spain didn't deserve to win - Germany was the better team during the tournament and it was just bad luck that they won," said Jens, a teacher.

Ahead of the semi-final, the German team sent a letter to fans, thanking them for their support.

"We've all seen the pictures back home. Hundreds of thousands in the public squares, millions of television screens, emotions in black, red and gold," it said.

"Even if you're almost 10,000km away, your support is here for every single one of us. Your enthusiasm gives us an extra kick. Your support makes us stronger," it went on, before claiming that "our road to the final has not yet come to an end".

But on Wednesday night, the German dream came to an abrupt end.

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