Why did it happen?

Why did Germany, the defending world champion, fall?

Was it, as Coach Berti Vogts insists, the result of only two errors? Or was there something deeper behind Sunday’s 2-1 quarterfinal loss to Bulgaria in front of a stunned crowd of 72,416 at Giants Stadium?

Certainly, the Germans were to blame for Andreas Moeller’s stupid foul on Hristo Stoitchkov, barely outside the penalty area.

Certainly, the Germans were to blame for building a wall that failed to stop Stoitchkov’s subsequent free kick. The wall was big enough, it just was not mobile enough. The players, fearing a deflection, failed to leap high enough to block the immaculate shot.


Certainly, the Germans were to blame a short while later when Zlatko Iankov’s cross was powered past goalkeeper Bodo Illgner by an excellent header from Yordan Letchkov. They should never have allowed the much shorter Thomas Haessler to be left alone to guard Letchkov, no matter how competent a player Haessler is.

Those were the two errors to which Vogts pointed: the non-jumping wall and the mismatch of Haessler against Letchkov. That he would single them out is only natural, because neither mistake could be laid at his door. They were decisions the players had to make.

In short, Vogts was saying: Don’t blame me, I’m only the coach.

But there were other factors in Sunday’s defeat to which Vogts could have pointed but did not.

He was handicapped, for instance, by the unavailability of Matthias Sammer, who had played exceptionally well in the tournament but was lost to injury. It turned out to be a crucial loss. Vogts’ choice of starters was further limited by the absence of Stefan Effenberg, whom he had sent home for insulting the fans; and Mario Basler, who returned to Germany to be with his wife, who was having difficulty with her pregnancy.

So Germany’s bench was not deep enough. The talent was not there to step in when needed, and for that Vogts must bear at least a share of the blame. He selected the team.

To his credit, he did not blame the referee, Colombia’s Jose Torres Cadena, for disallowing the goal that would have put Germany ahead, 2-0.


“We can discuss this forever,” he said, “but we have to accept the referee’s decision, and we have accepted it.”

He could hardly have done otherwise, considering that Germany benefited from an earlier bad refereeing decision in its second-round victory over Belgium.

So now Vogts and his players will be flying back to Germany, where a hostile reception is likely. Some will retire from the national team. Whether Vogts, who won the World Cup as a player in 1974, will stay on as coach is debatable.

All of his predecessors won either the World Cup, the European Championship or both. Vogts’ Germany was beaten by upstart Denmark in the final of the 1992 European Championship in Gothenburg, Sweden. And now there is this startling loss to unheralded Bulgaria.

History could have been made had Germany won this World Cup. Vogts would have joined Brazil’s Mario Zagalo and Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer as only the third person to win the World Cup as a player and as a coach.

That won’t happen now.

German captain Lothar Matthaus, who on Sunday played in a record-tying 21st World Cup game, could have broken that record on Wednesday. Had Germany won the tournament, he could also have become the first player in history to captain two World Cup-winning teams.


That won’t happen now.

Juergen Klinsmann, had he scored one more goal, could have tied Russia’s Oleg Salenko for the scoring lead and perhaps gone on to win the title.

That won’t happen now.

Instead, Germany will have to go through post-tournament analysis and begin building a team capable of winning the 1996 European Championship in England and qualifying for the 1998 World Cup in France.

This time, Germany qualified automatically as the defending champion. That, in the long run, might have been its undoing.

That and a Bulgarian team that refused to accept defeat.