Germany coach Joachim Loew was on the verge of joining an elite club should his team have gone all the way in Euro 2016 but instead his bunch of wounded warriors fell short - and not for the first time.
"We were the better team," Loew said after Thursday's 2-0 semi-final loss to France. "We put in a lot of effort, showed good body language, got forward and were good in one on ones."
Germany dominated possession but missed what chances they made and presented France with two gifts in Marseille - a needless penalty conceded by Bastian Schweinsteiger and a rare error from goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.
"We were unfortunate to concede a penalty a minute before half-time, that was bad luck," Loew said. "We had our chances but didn't score."
Germany's failure means Loew will not join compatriot Helmut Schoen and Spain’s Vicente del Bosque as the only coaches to win both the World Cup and European Championships.
Instead, 2016 will marked down as another missed opportunity having reached the business end of a major tournament.
Germany lost the Euro 2008 final, finished third in the 2010 World Cup and reached the 2012 Euro semis before making the breakthrough to win the 2014 World Cup under Loew's guidance but, as after all defeats, his most recent decisions will now be analysed in excruciating detail.
"Today we didn't have the luck we needed; in 2010 and 2012 when we went out, the sides were better than us," he insisted. "Today we were better than the French but for the goals and result."
There is no doubting that injuries to Marco Reus, Ilkay Guendogan and Antonio Ruediger before the tournament didn't help while Sami Khedira and Mario Gomez picked up injuries in France.
Mats Hummels was then suspended for the semi-final meaning options were few and far between in such a crucial encounter.
"There were injured players, Khedira and Gomez, Hummels was suspended and (Jerome) Boateng went off injured – they’re hard players to replace. The side did everything I told them, showed a lot of courage so there’s nothing to reproach them for."
Initially Loew seemed to have pulled a tactical masterstroke with Schweinsteiger sitting deep in midfield, almost as a third defender, while full-backs Jonas Hector and Joshua Kimmich bombed forward. This allowed Germany to overrun the French midfield and a first half goal seemed a matter of time.
But not only did it not come, France struck with a sucker-punch right before the break.
"We have also controlled the match in the second half," Loew said. "In this level single actions might decide the game, a little luck. If we'd scored we could have dominated to a large extent."
In the absence of Gomez, the team lacked a focal point up front and the weak performance of deputy Thomas Mueller - who went through the whole tournament without scoring - is sure to come under scrutiny.
Loew had few other alternatives though - Mario Goetze also failed to make an impact when introduced while other forwards Andre Schuerrle, Lukas Podolski and Leroy Sane were given scant playing time over Germany's six games.
The World Cup winners will now look to Russia 2018 to try and defend their title - the margin was fine, but they head into the next campaign without having added the Euro crown.
Sunday, July 3, 2016 - 00:45
Thursday, July 7, 2016 - 23:43