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 Tuesday, June 20
Germany exits Euro 2000 without a win

ROTTERDAM -- Defending champions Germany, once the kings of consistency, limped out of Euro 2000 after a humiliating 3-0 defeat by a second-string Portugal on Tuesday.

Sergio Conceicao
Sergio Conceicao of Portugal, right, nets one of his three goals.

They carried with them the stigma of being the worst German team in major finals since World War Two.

A classy hat-trick by Sergio Conceicao helped the Portuguese hand the former world champions their biggest defeat in a European championship finals' match.

Germany's footballers, once reliable and durable, finished the tournament a battered, old machine.

In the last 55 years, the Germans have only once before failed to get past the first round of any major tournament -- at the 1984 European championship.

But they managed to win one match and draw in France 16 years ago. At Euro 2000 the Germans finished bottom of group A with one draw and two defeats.

Portugal, who finished top of the group with a 100 percent record and now face Turkey in the quarter-finals, rubbed salt in German wounds by making their defence look pedestrian with Conceicao's goals in the 36th, 54th and 71st minutes.

"We started the game well and hit the post," said German coach Erich Ribbeck who is expected to face intense pressure to step down. "Then we went a goal down to a team that was technically superior to us and, you could say, almost humiliated us and fully deserved their win.

"Our players lacked the power and physical strength to turn things around. I am responsible for this team and how they played this tournament and I don't shirk that responsibility at all."

He added: "I have failed."

Captain and goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, who made an embarrassing mistake for the second goal, letting Conceicao's fierce 25-metre shot underneath his body, added: "I feel ashamed for the entire team which has lost its nerve completely. There is no other option than to rebuild a new team."

Portugal, who rested most of their leading players, never let the Germans into the game apart from the 31st minute when Marco Bode found himself free on the left of the box. But his shot hit the right-hand post.

Just five minutes later Germany's slim hopes of staying in the competition were effectively destroyed when Pauleta's cross from the left took a deflection towards the right-hand post and Conceicao dived over at the line to head the ball home.

His second was embarrassing to the usually reliable Kahn but he produced a classy finish for the third, running on to a pass from Capucho on the right-hand side of the box and blasting the ball home.

This game on a warm Dutch night will go down as possibly the lowest moment in German football history. The public at home will never forget it. It marked the end of an era with the 150th and last cap of libero Lothar Matthaeus who walked off the field at the end looking dismayed at his team's poor performance.

The most capped player of all time, who was nicknamed "motor mouth" for his incessant talking to the media in his early days, left the stadium without a word to reporters.

After the 1984 finals, coach Jupp Derwall parted company with the team and Franz Beckenbauer began a golden era during which the Germans won the 1990 World Cup.

Ribbeck is unlikely to survive this and will now talk to German soccer officials about his future. But the problem is bigger than one man. Germany, struggling to find young talent, faces an uphill task to make it back to the top.

Many of the Dutch and Portuguese fans in the Rotterdam arena took delight in watching the demise of a country who so often seemed to have had luck on their side in major tournaments.

But Portuguese coach Humberto Coelho refused to admit he had sent out his reserve side, keen to stress that all his squad was capable of playing a role at Euro 200.

"This is great joy for us but we have to keep our cool, " he said. "It will be a difficult game against the Turks and we are now focussing on this."

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