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'A flip of a coin' - tearful Germany suffer 'bitter' exit

Thomas Muller consoles Toni Kroos after the loss to Spain

German fans, deep down, perhaps never truly expected their side to go all the way to the Euro 2024 final. But that will not make the nature of their dramatic 2-1 defeat to Spain on Friday any less painful.

Having looked to have done enough to take their enthralling quarter-final clash to penalties as Florian Wirtz cancelled out Dani Olmo's opener, up popped another substitute Mikel Merino with a powerful 119th-minute header to break the host nation's hearts.

But if there was a sense of what if at the final whistle, it did not linger long as many Germany supporters stayed behind at Stuttgart Arena to applaud the efforts of their players.

"There was incredible drama right to the end, you could not take your eyes off it," former Scotland international Ally McCoist said on ITV Sport.

"There was nothing between the teams. It was a flip of the coin."

Ex-Republic of Ireland captain Roy Keane added: "Soul, spirit and effort - all the momentum was with Germany. Did they just about to deserve to win? Probably.

"It was like two heavyweight boxers swinging at each other."

Defeat 'hurts' but 'future is great' with young stars

Germany boss Julian Nagelsmann was understandably hurting after full-time.

"It's difficult to hold back the tears," he said shortly after the final whistle. "They did not deserve to lose. It hurts, it will take time to make it better."

But this result and performance was a far cry from when Germany played Spain four years ago.

Back then, they suffered their heaviest defeat in a competitive match as they lost 6-0 in the Nations League, a result that left them arguably at their lowest ebb.

It was sandwiched between disappointing group-stage exits at the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, with Germany looking far from the force they once were.

But at this tournament the four-time world champions have looked an exciting and dynamic side once again.

In Wirtz, Jamal Musiala and Kai Havertz they have a young and talented forward line, with the experienced striker Niclas Fullkrug providing a different kind of threat off the bench.

Musiala, 21, has scored three goals in five games for Germany, while Wirtz, also 21, almost made the difference against Spain, scoring the equaliser at the end of normal time before going close to a second in extra time.

There's been a clear sense of unity in the Germany team that Nagelsmann suggested had not always been there in the past.

"We had a really great time together," added the former Bayern Munich boss.

"From the start of the preparations there was not one situation where I had to intervene as a coach - we had a very good atmosphere.

“The thing said about national teams from the past is they did not have the will to win but I think you can see they did [against Spain]. They invested everything on the pitch."

That unity extended to the stands.

Some may have initially been indifferent about the tournament and Germany's hopes, but that changed as it progressed, with cities often packed with supporters in their national team shirt, while car horns could be heard long into the night after victories.

"It has been a lot of fun going into the cities for the atmosphere," said supporter Kristina. "Most of the people in Germany have been very excited during the tournament."

Another supporter, Konstantin, added: "We could have five more big tournaments with Wirtz and Musiala - that is crazy. With them the future is great."

Kroos 'proud' despite sad end to career

Toni Kroos looks on after Germany's defeat by Spain
Toni Kroos had been one of Germany's standout performers at Euro 2024 [Getty Images]

However, it wasn't the fairy tale ending veteran Germany midfielder Toni Kroos wanted.

The 34-year-old is retiring from football after Euro 2024. Germany's last match at the tourmament would be his final match.

He he was unable to hold back the tears at full-time as his stellar 17-year career came to an end against Spain.

The former Bayern Munich and Real Madrid player bows out after 114 appearances for his country, helping them to lift the World Cup in 2014.

"We threw everything in, to lose when we were so close, is bitter," Kroos told ARD.

"The elimination is the main focus right now [rather than retirement talk], because the goal that we had, we were unable to achieve and the dream we had is over."

"We played a good tournament but when you're so close, to be eliminated like that, it's bitter."

But Kroos could also see the positives in the tournament for Germany that he believes provides hope for the future.

"We can all be proud because of what we did," he added. "I think we gave German football hope again and we got better as we went along.

"I think the team will do it in future, but now we're extremely sad because we would have liked to stay a little longer."