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German leaders queue to laud team

Schroeder hitched a ride to Japan with the country's prime minister  

BERLIN, Germany -- From conservatives to ex-communists, German politicians were united in praise of Germany's World Cup soccer team on Sunday even as its stunning run ended in a 2-0 defeat by Brazil.

"This team did more than most people expected of it," Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who travelled to Japan to watch the final, said on ZDF television. "I have said Germany is proud of ths team and I have no reason to change that."

With an eye on elections September 22, his Social Democratic Party said in a message of congratulations that "we are all looking forward to Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder welcoming the team to the World Cup in Germany in 2006."

Schroeder's conservative election rival, Bavarian governor Edmund Stoiber, also traveled to Yokohama, Japan. Other German politicians at the match included President Johannes Rau.

Stoiber congratulated team coach Rudi Voeller on putting together "a splendid team that has plenty of character and great virtues," said his spokesman, Martin Neumeyer. "The team has really made progress with cohesion, work and discipline."

Schroeder and Stoiber have wasted no opportunity to celebrate Germany's unexpected progress at the World Cup. Stoiber planned to fly home with the team Monday, while Schroeder -- arguing earlier this week that politics should stay out of its homecoming -- has turned down the offer.

There was praise, too, from the former East German communists, despite Germany's failure to win what would have been its first World Cup since reunification in 1990.

Stoiber: Matched Schroeder's enthusiasm  

"Hats off to Voeller, thanks to Oliver Kahn," said Roland Claus, the Party of Democratic Socialism's leader in parliament.

He said the tournament had produced "a deserving world champion, and a surprising and deserving runner-up."

Soccer language has dominated the political lexicon in Germany this week.

According to Stoiber, "the game is over" for the chancellor's centre-left coalition.

Stretching the football theme further, he declared: "There must be no extra time for this team. Someone who builds up such a negative record over four years won't manage anything good in eight years."

"In 86 days the final whistle must blow" for Schroeder's coalition, he added.

A poll carried out by Jung's group for ZDF television on Friday showed support for Schroeder's Social Democrats up 1 percent over the past week to 36 percent, while Stoiber's conservative opposition was unchanged at 39 percent. Still, the margin of error was plus or minus 2.7 percent.

Jung said any improvement could be credited partly to a World Cup feel-good factor, but also to leaked findings this week by an official commission on reforms to Germany's rigid labour market.

President Johannes Rau
German President Johannes Rau was also there  

The panel's proposals aim to halve German joblessness -- nearly 4 million people, a rate of 9.5 percent -- within three years, cutting red tape for the self-employed, effectively turning employment offices into temporary work agencies and tightening rules on benefits.

Schroeder has said he liked "the direction the overall concept takes."

Meanwhile, there was an unexpected boost Saturday for one politician who is not in Yokohama: Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, whose Greens party -- Schroeder's junior coalition partner has itself been struggling.

Goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, the team captain and hero of Germany's World Cup run, was quoted by the newsmagazine Der Spiegel describing Fischer as his "personal favourite, in human and political terms."



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