World Cup 2002: Oliver Kahn

he Tears of the Goalkeeping Titan

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Oliver Rolf Kahn was the subject of many photos and films during his career. But one picture of the titan in particular has become etched on the memories of many fans:
Oliver Kahn is seen leaning on the posts, he sinks, he sinks deeper until he is sitting on the ground at the bottom of a goalpost chewing over his thoughts. The history books note the day as being 30 June 2002. The match in question is the FIFA World Cup’s 64th. It is the final between Germany and Brazil. 69,069 spectators have gathered in Yokohama. Germany are looking to win the FIFA trophy for the fourth time and Brazil are striving for their fifth crown.
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The greatest hour ended in bitter disappointment: A beaten Oliver Kahn sits with his back against the goalpost after the 2002 FIFA World Cup final. Brazil defeated Germany 2-0.(Photo: Kunz/Augenklick)
The match refereed by the Italian Pierluigi Collina had became game where patience was the key. Then Ronaldo takes off like a rocket. 1-0 in the 67th minute and 2-0 in the 79th, Ronaldo had crowned his World Cup performance. Brazil win the World Cup, Germany is beaten, the titan Kahn is grounded. The pictures have remained in people’s memories. Kahn was given a “4” – satisfactory – by “kicker”, the leading German football magazine, for his performance in the 90 minute final. They wrote, “The tragic figure of the final. First he rescues Germany twice against Ronaldo, has a lucky break when Kleberson’s shot hits the bar and then bravely risks everything when facing Gilberto Silva. But then he makes a fatal mistake by not holding on to Rivaldo’s long range shot. Ronaldo pounces and Brazil are 1-0 up. Has no chance with the second goal.”Kahn only became a World Champion in people’s hearts

Summing up after the match team boss Rudi Völler was nevertheless still full of praise: “We had a good goalkeeper. Olli shouldn’t blame himself. But he will knowing him. But the fact is without Kahn we’d have never reached the final.” The words were of no comfort. “There’s no consolation in such moments. I’ll have to live with my mistake. But it’s not all bad. It was my only mistake in seven games. It’s doubly bitter. But it’d be totally ridiculous to say that everything is crap. We’re the World Cup runners-up and we’ve put German football back where it belongs, as one of the world’s best.”

Later, at the victory ceremony, the FIFA President, Sepp Blatter, Franz Beckenbauer and the great Pele hung a silver medal around the downcast Kahn’s neck. Kahn shook hands apathetically. He had the one medal he did not want. Silver instead of gold. Tears instead of triumph. Kahn, the titan, ended up becoming only a world champion in people’s hearts. In the evening at the banquet Kahn, wearing a Germany t-shirt, was to be seen sunk in his chair at the table alongside his wife Gattin Simone. The fingers of his right hand were in bandages.

The hero in Asia makes a final mistake

Harald “Toni” Schumacher could feel for Kahn. He made the vital final mistake in 1986. He knew: “Blunders like that remain with you for the rest of your life.” Team-mate Christian Ziege said: “If anybody can get over such a situation then it’s Ollie.” What lessons are there to be learned from it? Goalkeepers, even titans, are humans. Kahn was a controversial figure in Germany for many years. He was always polarising the fans but now in the moment of defeat he was adored by his country’s people and they could feel for him. In Asia, Kahn, whose name sounds like the Genghis Khan, the conqueror of Central Asia, was now going to be a hero for ever.

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Oliver Kahn showed a brilliant performance against Ireland (1-1) at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, artistically saving a shot by Robbie Keane (left). Dietmar Hamann watches. (Photo: Kunz/Augenklick)
Kahn played a great FIFA World Cup in Asia. They were the first finals ever to be co-hosted (South Korea and Japan). He led his team to an 8-0 win against Saudi Arabia, was like an impregnable wall on his line and threw himself around the goalmouth like a panther in the 1-1 draw with Ireland and then gave the team a sense of security in the 2-0 and 1-0 wins against Cameroon and Paraguay respectively. The 1-0 quarterfinal victory against USA saw him exceed himself and then, in the semifinal, he showed the world the powers a top goalkeeper has to have in the 1-0 defeat of hosts South Korea. “Stern”, a leading German weekly news magazine, wrote prior to the final, “In the 34th year of his life Kahn, is not at the pinnacle. He IS the mountain. Mount Kahn. Insurmountable.” If only things had been the same way in the Yokohama final. Only a few observers have ever discussed the notion that Kahn was to blame for his own suffering and that it deprived the German team of the title. Shortly before Ronaldo’s opening goal, Kahn injured his finger, a sensitive capsule was torn. He lay on the ground in excruciating pain. Jens Lehmann stood on the sideline waiting to take over but Kahn did not want to forgo his final chance. Now with a damaged hand, he was to make the all-important mistake.Success is his maxim

Kahn explains his quest, his attitude to competitive sport as: “My maxim is success. And I want to get as much of it as possible.” As a child, Kahn stood defiantly amongst Karlsruhe fans in the club’s Wildpark stadium wielding a Bayern Munich flag. His father Rolf had also played for Karlsruhe SC in the Bundesliga, but in midfield. Aged 14, Kahn stated that he wanted to become the country’s goalkeeper. He met Simone, the mother of his two children, for the first time when he was 15 and told her one year later, “I’m going to become a pro. Things will be difficult for you too.” At 19 he was playing under Winfried Schäfer in the Bundesliga. Kahn was preparing in Karlsruhe for the big time at Bayern. He learnt how to deal with hatred and jealousy. Taunts and derision only served to make him stronger and stronger. Kahn was a UEFA Champions League winner at the age of 32. Before the 2001 final in Milan against Valencia, Kahn was not really known as being a penalty killer. He saved three in San Siro. He had achieved his greatest triumph one year before the FIFA World Cup final. It was his pinnacle in his 20 years in professional football. Kahn, who collected national titles like others collect stamps whilst at Bayern, maybe had one piece of consolation on the day of the defeat in Yokohama, namely participating at the 2006 FIFA World Cup™. But it later hurt just as much as Ronaldo’s goal did.

“Klinsi” stole the star role in the “Summer Fairy Tale” from Kahn

National coach Jürgen Klinsmann made Jens Lehmann the No. 1 for the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ on home soil and downgraded him, the titan, from the captaincy to the substitute’s bench. That he is a fair sportsman was obvious at the tournament. Before the quarterfinal shoot-out against Argentina in Berlin, he rose from the bench to wish Lehmann the best of luck and generally reassure the keeper. It was a gesture of friendship between two goalkeepers who were never the greatest of friends but who obviously accepted one another. In the third place play-off between Germany and Portugal (3-1) Kahn helped his team to win the bronze medal after Klinsmann donated him the farewell match. His 86th cap was his last for Germany. The UEFA European Championship 2008™ was viewed from the stands and the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ will most probably see him “in action” commentating for ZDF, the national German television channel. After putting 2002 and 2006 into perspective, Kahn said “I worked hard for my successes. But the defeats in my career have made me a really strong person.”

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Oliver Kahn retired from his career in September 2008 with a farewell match and a record: No other player has won eight national German titles. (Photo: GES/Augenklick)
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