National team: Emptiness and pride: Kroos retires from football with emotion

Toni Kroos is denied a fairytale end to his career with the European Championship trophy. But he sees his comeback mission fulfilled at the home tournament: “We are back on a par with the best!”

Toni Kroos had imagined the final image of his glorious football career differently. But the dream of a final triumph with the European Championship trophy in hand, which was initially daring and then ended with dramatic force against Spain, did not come true for the great German title collector. Kroos is the 2014 world champion and six-time Champions League winner, but after his very last game as a professional footballer, the award of European champion is missing from the CV of the truly royal man from Real Madrid.

“What’s going on inside me?” said Kroos, sad and broken, but also composed, when he was asked to describe his feelings and thoughts in the corridors of the Stuttgart stadium after the late and painful Spanish knockout blow to make it 1-2 in extra time.

“A certain emptiness, to be honest,” answered the 34-year-old. “That’s normal, given the far-reaching consequences after the game. First and foremost, it’s a disappointment about being eliminated from the tournament,” said Kroos. What counted was the moment, the missed semi-final, the unfinished path to the final in Berlin. The fact that his career ended harshly and abruptly will “only sink in in the next few weeks.”

“Spain swam quite well”

Kroos didn’t want to “moan too much,” but it hurt him too, especially because of the manner of the defeat. “We were absolutely on par with Spain,” he said in a firm voice. And that also applies to his summary of this atmospheric home European Championship: “We are back on par with the best!” Back to the top of the world, that was the goal after the botched tournaments in 2018, 2021 and 2022 – and after his return to the DFB.

In his 114th international match, Kroos had to push himself physically beyond his limits. He hadn’t been on the pitch for that long for a long time. He was running out of energy, cramps were plaguing him, his tank was empty: “For me, definitely,” said Kroos. “But it would have been enough for the penalty shootout.” He would have taken responsibility there too, but shortly before that, Spain’s substitute Mikel Merino struck with his head. “The goal conceded was brutal given the way the game went. Spain were really out of sorts,” said Kroos.

A comeback that swept the team along

The Real grande played a remarkable, if not outstanding, last tournament. But even more important was his return in the European Championship year, which, in the midst of the deepest gloom, sparked a spirit of optimism in the DFB team that carried far during the tournament.

This team was able to rely on Kroos as a focal point. And the 2014 world champion was finally being highly valued by fans in his home country in the late stages of his career. “Toni, Toni” echoed through the stadiums everywhere.

Kroos was impressed by “how the team got back up” after the setbacks at the end of 2023. And even in the acute pain of being eliminated from the European Championship, he did not regret having dared to make the DFB comeback, which was also risky for him, at the request of the national coach.

“The time was very good. I had a lot of fun. I am very, very satisfied,” said Kroos. After the game, he spoke to the team in the dressing room, who have to travel to the 2026 World Cup without him. “I didn’t say it would only be a good time for me if I came back and became European champion. That would have been a bit presumptuous. But I didn’t think we could get so close so quickly,” he said.

A hymn by Nagelsmann to “one of the greatest”

Even most of the Spanish players, in their unbridled joy, came to Kroos after the final whistle and said goodbye to the Real hero in person. Nagelsmann, meanwhile, sang a hymn to him. “Toni’s career cannot be valued highly enough. I think what everyone sees are his sporting successes, which are extraordinary and will probably remain unique for a German player, perhaps forever. He is certainly one of the greatest German players,” said the national coach, who is only two years older.

Nagelsmann could feel vindicated that he had come up with the comeback coup with Kroos. “Before it got out that I wanted to bring him back, no one was in favor of it. The week after he was back, everyone said, I’ve had the idea for a long time, why is he, the national coach, only doing it now,” Nagelsmann said on Friday evening.

“We know about Toni’s sporting successes. What deserves more credit, what most people here don’t know, is his character, what he is like as a person, how he speaks to the team on his behalf right now in a very sad moment, how he evaluates things, what role he gives himself in a large group,” enthused Nagelsmann.

“He always sees himself or saw himself as part of the group. His human nature, the way he deals with his children, his wife, his teammates, all of these things are extraordinary and for me, in an assessment of such a career, they rank much higher than six Champions League titles,” enthused Nagelsmann in the press conference. Even without the winner’s trophy, the home European Championship was a very worthy end to Kroos’ mega career.

Source: Stern

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