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By ESPN Staff

Colossus Kahn brings bittersweet career to an end

HAMBURG, Germany, May 15 (Reuters) - For a man who has achieved so much, it's strangely fitting that the enduring image of Oliver Kahn will be the forlorn figure who sat by the goal after his mistake led to Germany's 2002 World Cup final defeat.

Kahn, who plays his final competitive game on Saturday when Bayern Munich host Hertha Berlin in the Bundesliga, spent most of his 21-year career thriving on abuse as much as admiration.

And while Bayern fans have always loved him, it was only when he experienced failure and defeat that the rest of Germany finally warmed to him.

The 38-year-old, who moved to Bayern from his home town club Karlsruhe in 1994, retires after winning his eighth Bundesliga championship and sixth German Cup.

He was man of the match in the Champions League final victory over Valencia in 2001, was named best player of the World Cup in 2002 and world goalkeeper of the year three times.

Saturday's game in Munich will be his 557th Bundesliga match, a record for a goalkeeper.

'We'd never have won the Champions League without Kahn's performances, and his character and desire off the field,' Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said recently. 'He's our most important player of the last decade.'

Kahn is exactly the sort of player rival fans love to hate.

Known in Germany as King Kahn -- picture him celebrating with raised fists and roaring mouth -- he has absolute dedication to winning and has often been outspoken in his criticism of team mates as well as rivals.

But there have been times when fans from Germany and across the world have taken Kahn to their hearts, too.

In 1999 Kahn's Bayern team lost the Champions league final to Manchester United after an incredible finale that saw the English side score twice in the dying seconds.

There was a wave of sympathy for Bayern and Kahn in particular from fans who would normally revel in their failures.

At the World Cup in 2002, Kahn led Germany to the final almost single-handedly but in the end his luck deserted him and his first mistake of the tournament gave Ronaldo his first goal.

Brazil went on to win 2-0 and Kahn looked utterly distraught as he sat against a post at the end of the game.

Four years later, Kahn was heartbroken again when Juergen Klinsmann informed him Jens Lehmann, his great rival, would be his first choice goalkeeper at the World Cup.

A devastated Kahn accepted the number two role in the squad and was hailed as a model of sportsmanship for his attitude.

'It's funny,' Kahn observed. 'Throughout my career I've been renowned for fighting to the best but now, when I settle for second, everyone calls me a hero.'

Kahn was rewarded with his 86th and final cap in the third-place playoff victory over Portugal.

'Despite our rivalry your attitude always really impressed me,' Lehmann said in tribute this week.

'I knew I could never let up because there was someone there training even harder to be the best. I admire you and wish you well for the future.'

Kahn will be given a rare honour in September when Bayern take on the German national team in a testimonial match.

His competitive career will by then be over, but you can still bet that if he concedes a goal he will be screaming at his defenders with the same anger and frustration as ever.