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Hero's Death Recalls a Quieter, Simpler Time for Bundesliga

August 25, 2003|GRAHAME L. JONES

They buried Helmut Rahn last week. The world he lived and played in was laid to rest long, long before.

Rahn was one of Germany's sporting heroes, a man revered for the two goals he scored on a memorable Swiss summer afternoon almost half a century ago.

Rahn's goals, which gave Germany its 3-2 victory over favored Hungary in the 1954 World Cup final, might have been the most important scored for his country. Certainly they were more significant than Gerd Mueller's winning goal in the 1974 final or Andreas Brehme's game-winner in the 1990 final, both also won by Germany.

World War II had ended only nine years before, and a new Germany was just beginning to find its feet. The so-called "Miracle of Berne" helped it do so.

Hungary's "Magic Magyars" had thrashed the Germans, 8-3, earlier in the competition and were leading, 2-0, when Rahn changed the course of the game.

"He was an outstanding personality, who achieved something unique," Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder, president of the German soccer federation, said in eulogizing Rahn. "Helmut Rahn restored the feeling of self-esteem and self-respect to the entire nation."

But what Rahn, who died Aug. 14, two days before his 74th birthday, would have made of today's Bundesliga, and especially of Bayern Munich with its raucous, squabbling, talent-laden players, is anyone's guess.

It was a different world in his day.

The Bundesliga celebrated its 40th anniversary Sunday, and while its players and coaches are no different than their counterparts in, say, England or Spain or Italy or France, they do seem to grab more than their fair share of the headlines.

Just the past week alone, for instance, has seen:

* Bayern Munich midfielder Michael Ballack declare that Germany has no chance of winning the 2004 European Championship in Portugal.

"All the teams want to win, but for some it is not a realistic goal," Ballack told Die Welt newspaper. "I don't think we belong [among] the favorites. Teams such as France, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy are ahead of us."

* Franz Beckenbauer, the former Bayern Munich star who captained the 1974 World Cup-winning team and coached the 1990 World Cup-winning team, agreed with Ballack.

"We can play a decent role, but the European title is unrealistic," he said. "There are better teams."

* Bayern Munich goalkeeper Oliver Kahn launched a scathing attack on his German teammates, saying they should be willing to ignore minor injuries when called upon by the national team.

"We can't have a situation when players stay home just because the little toe in their left foot hurts," Kahn said.

"Club representatives have to realize that the Germany team is the driving force. I don't know the last time we played with our best team. I think it was in 1996 [when Germany won Euro '96 in England].

"The Brazilians come to play for their team even if they have to come to the matches carrying their heads under their arms.

"I don't want to experience another disaster like we had at Euro 2000 [when Germany was eliminated in the first round in Belgium and the Netherlands]."

* Ballack lashed back at Kahn, saying he was being unfair to players with legitimate injuries.

"It's just nonsense," Ballack said. "He has no idea how severely injured players really are. If he's got a certain player in mind, he should name names."

* Germany, without eight injured players, was beaten, 1-0, by Italy in Stuttgart, with Italy thus joining Argentina, Brazil, England, France, the Netherlands and Spain as leading soccer countries that have overcome Germany in the last three years.

"It's always stupid to lose at home," Coach Rudi Voeller said. "But we played really well in the second half and created so many chances. We lost against a world-class team."

Said Kahn: "I want to win the matches [and] we're not winning them. It makes me want to throw up.

"The Italians go boom-boom and the ball is in the goal [net]. We need 300 chances and we still don't score."

* Mayer-Vorfelder suggested that too many foreigners playing in the Bundesliga is one cause for Germany's international shortcomings.

"The share of foreign players in the Bundesliga is approaching 60% and German talents are getting less and less playing time," he said in Frankfurt, where he proposed talks aimed at restricting the number of foreign players allowed in the league.

* Bayern Munich's Brazilian striker Giovane Elber, who led Bundesliga scorers last season with 21 goals, said he does not want to languish on the bench this season just because Bayern has signed Dutch forward Roy Makaay for $20 million.

"I have to find a club where I can play," he told Sport-Bild weekly. "When I sit on the bench, that's comical."

On Sunday, Elber again found himself on the bench, but he was sent into the game in the second half and scored as Bayern beat SV Hamburg, 2-0, in the match that celebrated the Bundesliga's 40th anniversary.

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