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Tearful Germany coach lauds his team's example for German society at Euro 2024

BERLIN (AP) — Germany coach Julian Nagelsmann struggled to hold back tears Saturday as he talked about his team’s exit from the European Championship the night before.

He said Germany's performances at Euro 2024 and going toe-to-toe with Spain on Friday showed the benefit of collective work and social cooperation — though he lamented the cruel end after Spain substitute Mikel Merino scored in the last minute of extra time to send his team to the semifinals.

“We would have liked to have given the fans more, to stay a while longer, played good football, successful football, and we’d have like to have collected the title,” Nagelsmann said.

“I said we’d need the people of the country behind us, because we know we simply weren’t good at the last tournaments, that we as a team, as a federation, didn’t give much back to the people of the country from a sporting perspective,” Nagelsmann said. “And from the last matches, I think the fans realized that we want to achieve something and change things.”

Nagelsmann spoke of the emotional investment his players made.

“I’ve been told it’s not often the case that nearly every player who leaves the camp has tears in their eyes. I think that’s a huge compliment for the entire staff,” Nagelsmann said, choking back tears of his own.

The 2-1 loss to Spain left Germany considering the “what if” moments — what if Niclas Füllkrug’s effort had gone off the post, or if his late header had gone to the other side, or if referee Anthony Taylor had awarded a penalty in extra time when Jamal Musiala’s goalward shot struck Marc Cucurella’s arm.

Much of the German analysis and reflection focused on Taylor’s decision, but German soccer federation president Bernd Neuendorf and team manager Rudi Völler focused instead on how Nagelsmann’s team has restored German pride after several major tournament flops.

“A few months ago, our dream was how to get the fans back on board, how can we make our fellow people in Germany proud of us again,” Völler said. “You could feel it in every game, even yesterday when there was huge disappointment that we didn’t make it and were knocked out. But the people are standing right behind us and that’s a great feeling.”

German interest in the tournament grew as Nagelsmann’s team progressed — public broadcaster ARD said just over 26 million watched Germany’s quarterfinal against Spain, more than had watched any of the games before, and many more than had watched Germany’s games at the World Cup in Qatar, when Hansi Flick’s team was knocked out in the group stage.

But in Berlin at least, there were still few German flags flying in support of the team. Some cars had little German flags, while little convenience stores known as Spätkaufs and restaurants displayed flags to show potential guests they could watch the games there. While Germans are clearly very interested in following the team, many remain reluctant to display symbols of national pride.

Nagelsmann spoke of building on the team’s performances with a view to the 2026 World Cup in Mexico, Canada and the United States — the 36-year-old’s contract was extended through the tournament shortly before Euro 2024.

Nagelsmann also spoke of the lessons German society can take from his team and the need to get away from individuality into collective action.

“Today it seems more important to take an Instagram photo in front of some mountain, alone. And I think collectiveness to achieve things together is extremely important,” Nagelsmann said. “We need to get away from this incredible individuality and toward a group focused on doing good and achieving something. The football tournament showed that.”

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AP Euro 2024: https://apnews.com/hub/euro-2024