After his first and only appearance in the tournament, Oliver Kahn, the man who towered over German soccer – both on and off the pitch – announced to the world that he would retire from international competition.
Oliver Kahn in his last international game
"It was a beautiful time but you have to know when it's all over," an emotionally moved Kahn declared after Germany's 3-1 win over Portugal on July 8.
Speaking to reporters after the match which brought Germany a third place in the World Cup, the 37-year-old Kahn said "that was my last international match – you could hardly ask for a better match to go out on."
Having earned 86 caps for Germany, Kahn is the most experienced player on the German squad and reigned as the country's number one goalkeeper for eight years. But "King Kahn", who had hoped to bring home the Cup in 2006 after losing to Brazil in the 2002 World Cup final, was forced to abdicate the throne.
First, he was stripped of his captaincy in favor of Michael Ballack in 2004, one of coach Jürgen Klinsmann's first decisions, and then he was forced to compete with his former understudy Jens Lehmann, who was appointed number one in April. The setbacks were so great, that many were surprised when the giant refused to tumble, but instead vowed to stay on the team and do whatever he could to help win.
"That was the hardest phase of my career," Kahn admitted to reporters after Saturday's win against Portugal. "It was hard to stay in high spirits and keep a positive attitude. But it was an important experience. Sometimes you get your reward. That's why I'm so grateful for this match," he said.
A true sportsman on and off the pitch
Kahn watches the Sweden match from the bench
A towering figure in front of the net, Kahn proved just as domineering on the bench, where his pensive gaze and stoic silence often attracted the attention of the media. He was no longer in the limelight, blocking and diving for balls, commanding the team from his lone post at the end of the pitch – but he was a central force just the same.
After confounding his critics by showing the strength of character to continue after losing his status as first-choice keeper, Kahn focused on passing on knowledge to his younger teammates. "I am obsessed by winning titles and being the number one so helping the team is giving me a new perspective," Kahn revealed ahead of the Germany-Argentina match.
"I am not finding it difficult spending a few weeks here. I think it is fair to say I bring my experience to the team. Sometimes the younger players need to be pushed or given an arm around the shoulder. I can do that," he said at the time.
Kahn encourages Jens Lehmann in the Argentina match
Before the start of the penalty shoot-out in the quarter-finals against Argentina, Kahn pushed aside all grudges and gave Lehmann a pep talk. "That gesture showed his true character, Oliver is a great sportsman," recalled Arne Friedrich after the match. Klinsmann too, was full of praise for Kahn throughout the tournament, applauding the goalkeeper's "positive influence on the team as a professional player and as a human."
Of course, Kahn would have rather been out on the pitch, fending off balls. And in the third-place match against Portugal, Kahn finally got his chance to perform. It was Klinsmann's tribute to the giant.
As for Lehmann, the one-time opponent, Kahn's departure from the international stage will be deeply felt. "He is a great competitor. The two of us continuously pushed ourselves to be better than all the others," he said and added with a grin," plus, we managed to entertain the German media. His exit will be the hardest for them to bear."
Kahn's contract with FC Bayern Munich is good for another two years. After that, he has said he will quit playing, but it is unlikely such a giant will leave soccer all together.