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Kahn Falters at Wrong Time

Final: Germany's exceptional goalkeeper makes crucial mistake after playing flawlessly throughout the tournament.

July 01, 2002|MIKE PENNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

YOKOHAMA, Japan — So this, then, was the wrath of Kahn: A water bottle angrily punted against the side netting. Two padded gloves flung in disgust against the back of the net. Two red eyes staring off in the distance while Brazilians sang and danced 50 yards away.

German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, virtually flawless during his team's relentless six-game march to the World Cup final, picked the worst time possible for his first real mistake of the tournament--bobbling a save in the 67th minute of a scoreless match Sunday with Ronaldo lurking in the penalty area, far too close for comfort.

Ronaldo pounced on the rebound as Kahn scrambled on his stomach in a vain attempt to collect the loose ball. Kahn looked up as Ronaldo knocked the ball into the net, then buried his face in the wet turf.

For only the second time in the World Cup, Kahn had been beaten for a goal.

But it was enough to send Germany reeling, on its way to a 2-0 loss at Yokohama International Stadium.

It was the kind of save Kahn makes in his sleep, the kind of mistake that will make sleep difficult in the nights and weeks ahead. Brazil's Rivaldo hit a hard, low shot from the top of the box, sending Kahn to his knees with both arms open, waiting to smother the ball.

But the ball, made slippery by a persistent drizzle, struck Kahn in the chest, then in the arm and squirted out of his grasp. Kahn lunged forward to retrieve the ball, but too late--Ronaldo already was sprinting in to knock the ball just inside the right post.

A dozen minutes later, Ronaldo struck again, from 17 yards. After yielding one goal in his first 606 minutes of the World Cup, Kahn had been hit for two in 12.

After the final whistle sounded, Kahn spent several moments flinging equipment around his goal before standing idly, numb, inside the netting. Eventually, he propped himself against one of the goal posts, then slid all the way down to the ground, taking a seat for several minutes before two teammates walked over to help him to his feet.

Along with Brazil captain Cafu and referee Pierluigi Collina, they tried to console Kahn, to little avail.

"I don't think I can be consoled," Kahn said. "I am fully aware that this is the only mistake I made in the seven matches of the World Cup. That one mistake was brutally punished....

"It's normal to make a mistake--but it's 10 times worse when it comes in the final. You have to hold onto such a ball."

Kahn showed up in the postmatch interview area with his right hand wrapped in gauze and a bandage, the result of a torn ligament sustained earlier in the tournament. He refused to blame the injury for the bobble, but did allow that "it's a good thing that we are going on our vacations now and I will give my body a rest."

Kahn said he was proud of what his team accomplished at this World Cup, leaving as "vice champions" after restoring "German football back to where it belongs--in the top four."

He said he appreciated Collina's gesture, but admitted he is getting tired of losing important matches every time the Italian referee works one of his games. Collina also was the referee when Kahn's Bayern Munich team lost the Champions League final to Manchester United in 1999 and when Germany lost at home to England, 5-1, last fall.

"While he is a world-class referee, there is no doubting that he just doesn't bring us luck, does he?" Kahn said. "With him, we lost the Champions League final against Manchester. We lost at home to England in that infamous 1-5 defeat. He just doesn't bring us luck. Maybe it's four times lucky next time."

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