Job done. Kroos leaves stage after returning to restore Germany's standing in world soccer

Kroos won a host of titles including six Champions Leagues, mostly with Real Madrid, but also with Bayern Munich
Germany's Toni Kroos walks off the pitch after a quarter final match between Germany and Spain.
Germany's Toni Kroos walks off the pitch after a quarter final match between Germany and Spain.(Photo | AP)

This time, there'll be no encore.

As Germany great Toni Kroos was leaving the soccer stage after his final game, teammates and opponents alike sought him out.

The warmest embraces came from the Spanish players after their 2-1 win at the European Championship on Friday, a defeat that knocked out the host nation and ended Kroos' playing career.

Dani Carvajal and Joselu, Kroos' teammates at Real Madrid last season, gave him hugs and kisses on the cheek, then the other Spain players went to pay their respects to a player who came out of retirement to help restore Germany's standing in world soccer.

Kroos was the last Germany player who was born in East Germany. The cool-headed midfielder played 114 games for Germany, but the last five at Euro 2024 helped cement his standing as one of the country's all-time greats.

"Toni's career cannot be valued highly enough," Germany coach Julian Nagelsmann said. "What everyone sees and what's obvious are the sporting successes he celebrated which are extraordinary and will probably remain unique for a German player for a long time, maybe forever. Certainly, one of the greatest German players."

Nagelsmann coaxed Kroos out of retirement in one of his first acts after being appointed Germany coach last year. Kroos returned in March by leading Germany to morale-boosting friendly wins over France and the Netherlands.

"I have to say I found it really bizarre in the weeks before it leaked out that I wanted to bring him back, that no one really thought it was a good idea. Four weeks after he was back, everyone said they had that idea for a long time, why is the national coach only doing it now?" Nagelsmann posed.

The mood before Kroos' return was desperate – Germany had lost two and drawn one in Nagelsmann's first four games in charge – and there were genuine fears of embarrassment at Euro 2024 given that Germany had flopped at every major tournament since a group-stage exit as defending champion at the 2018 World Cup.

Altogether, Kroos led Germany to six wins and a draw before Spain ended his run in his eighth game since returning.

"We were so close, that's what makes it so bitter," Kroos said after Spain substitute Mikel Merino's game-winning goal in the last minute of extra time.

Kroos wasn't thinking of retirement immediately after the game.

"To be honest, right now the main feeling is that the tournament is over, because we all had a big goal that we wanted to achieve together. And this dream we all had has been simply shattered," Kroos said.

He refused to take too much credit for resuscitating the struggling German soccer team.

"We all chipped in to do a lot better than before," he said. "I'm glad that I was able to help a little so that at least in football Germany has hope again and the ambition to progress and to get better. And I'm also convinced that the team will manage that in the future."

Kroos won a host of titles, mostly with Real Madrid, but also with Bayern Munich – six Champions Leagues, four Spanish leagues, three Bundesligas, three German Cups and one Copa del Rey. With Germany, his biggest success was the World Cup title in 2014.

He had wanted to sign off with the European title at home this summer, but his former Madrid teammates got in the way.

Kroos was arguably fortunate not to be sent off – like another Madrid great Zinedine Zidane – in his final game. He started the match with a bad challenge on Pedri, from which the Barcelona player was unable to continue, and he played on the edge until he was finally booked by referee Anthony Taylor in the 67th.

But all that was forgotten after the whistle as the game's participants lined up with their own personal messages for Kroos.

"We know his sporting successes," Nagelsmann said. "What's even more important, what most people here don't know, is simply his character, who he is as a person, how he spoke to the team right now even in a very difficult moment for him, how he assesses things."

Nagelsmann said Kroos always saw himself as part of the group, that he was always a team player, despite being special.

"And he has this human way with his children, with his wife, with his teammates," Nagelsmann said. "All these things are extraordinary, and for me they rank much higher than six Champions League titles in an assessment of his career."

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