By Manfred Christoph
Former German international striker Ulf Kirsten brought the curtain down on a glittering professional career with six goals in a specially organised farewell game on Sunday.
The 37-year-old former 1. FC Dynamo Dresden and Bayer 04 Leverkusen forward celebrated a career spanning 20 years in front of a crowd of 30,000 in the Rudolf-Harbig-Stadion, Dynamo's home ground.
The Ulf Kirsten Dream Team ran out 9-8 winners against the Dynamo All-Stars on a night when Kirsten turned out for both teams. The striker scored twice for the Dream Team side - which comprised many of his former Bundesliga and international team-mates - and also found the net four times for the All-Stars.
Kirsten had tears in his eyes as he left the pitch to a standing ovation in the 79th minute and he freely admitted afterwards that the game had been an emotional occasion for him. "
This was the crowning finish of my career," Kirsten said after the match.
The high-profile stars who attended were quick to pay tribute to Kirsten's long playing career. "Ulf gave the supporters the impression that he was prepared to make any sacrifices for success," said current Germany coach Rudi Völler.
The big names on show included Oliver Neuville, Bernd Schneider, Jens Nowotny and Fredi Bobic in a Dream Team led by current BV Borussia Dortmund coach Matthias Sammer and former Leverkusen boss Christoph Daum. Kirsten's father Klaus and FC Energie Cottbus's Eduard Geyer took charge of the All-Stars side which included Bebeto, Jorginho, Olaf Thon and Toni Polster. Also present were Kirsten's old colleagues from his Dresden days, Dixie Dörner, Hans-Uwe Pilz, Jens Melzig, Hartmut Schade and Ralf Minge.
Kirsten spent the first seven years of his playing career at Dynamo, scoring 57 goals in 154 league games and helping them to East German league titles in 1989 and 1990 and cup success in 1984, 1985 and 1990.
He joined Leverkusen in the summer of 1990 but was unable to add more league titles, although the Ruhr side finished second in the Bundesliga on three occasions with Kirsten scoring 181 league goals in 350 games over 13 seasons. Leverkusen claimed the German Cup in 1993 and reached the final again nine years later, only to lose to FC Schalke 04. The same season, 2001/02, they missed out on the Bundesliga title to Dortmund by a single point, and unexpectedly reached the final of the UEFA Champions League only to fall to Real Madrid CF.
As the doors close on one career, Kirsten's life is moving in a new direction. He was appointed assistant coach at Leverkusen at the end of 2002/03 as injuries restricted him to just three leagues appearances in what proved to be his final season. If he shows the same talent, commitment and dedication that characterised his lengthy playing career, he is sure to be a success in the coaching world.
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