Monday, June 20, 2005

Monday 20th:The morning after

Yesterday was a great day's tournament football. Japan won their first game in the competition, giving all those wonderful fans something to smile about and the Brazilians, whose football was out this world against Greece, were shown to be human after all after being felled by mediocre Mexico. If the "Mini World Cup" as the papers here call it should remind us that the Beautiful Game is also the unpredictable game, where David frequently slays Goliath.
Memories are professionally short in football punditry and patriotically short in football fandom and in the rush to anoint Brazil as World Cup 2006 winners after their supernova against the Greeks, we seem to have forgotten that last time the pre-tournament favourites (Argentina) went out with a whimper in the first round in 2002 and that other giants like Italy, Spain, France and Portugal were dispatched by the likes of South Korea, Senegal and the USA.

Brazil are still definitely hot property and in the four musketeers Adriano, Robinho, Kaka and Ronaldinho the most exciting attacking ensemble in world soccer right now. But this dream team still lost to Mexico yesterday. As Alan Hansen says many a time, after listing abstract nouns such as pace, technique, composure and commitment, "it is goals that win games". Argentina are therefore perhaps the most solid team in this tournament and my dream final would be an all South American affair.

For Japan it was a relief to have won a match in this tournament at last and a relief for Zico, who looked very non-plussed after the defeat against Mexico. I sat drinking with fans who had travelled all the way from Japan just for yesterday's game in a cafe outside Frankfurt's main station yesterday, my first relaxation all week and I felt so happy for them. Only genuine lovers of football make the effort to travel continents for games like this and they are always a pleasure to mingle amongst with never a hint of trouble.

The Greeks were far more numerous, making a blue and white Aegean sea of the Waldstadion, though since many were speaking German I am not sure how many had travelled, but their pride in being champions of Europe is waning very fast. I cheered their win in Portugal last summer but now feel shortchanged watching their kick and rush football that would disgrace many English Championship sides. They were never pretty to watch and now look unlikely to make it to the World Cup, lying third in their group with an away trip to the team three points behind them, Denmark, to come.

It is really sweltering here with the thermometer again breaking 30C in the shade. I have always felt the World Cup puts northern european teams like England at a disadvantage because it always gets staged somewhere hot but England, apart, Germany is as northern as the staging will get and we get tropical weather.

The European press is barely covering this tournament or not at all in the case of some major news outlets but the host country certainly is with page upon page in the papers and blanket tv coverage including today, live coverage of the German team leaving their hotel to get on the team bus. Franz Beckenbauer is everywhere needless to say, from tv adverts to chat shows to magazines, the man is unavoidably Mr Germany.
The papers were wondering after Adriano's wonder goal against Greece if Ronaldo will even make the team next summer and also if Germany can progress if Michael Ballack is unfit or injured.
The German journalistic coverage has also extended to me being interviewed in Nuremberg by a journalist from a regional Bavarian daily on the subject of...sausages. Yes apparently the stadium's tasty double Nuremburger wurst was not the real McCoy (they should put 3 sausages not two in the bun you see) and they wanted to know if I was offended by that. Now if they had asked me about the official beer instead..

The focus today is on tomorrow's big game with Argentina, the pick of the group stage's ties. Klinsmann's team has so far stuttered before finding their feet in both games although the underlying feeling is definitely of a young and fairly inexperienced team in need of a lot more practice before being considered one of the favourites for the World Cup. So far, they do not look a patch on the 1974 or 1990 World Cup winning teams and tomorrow's game with the country leading the South American qualifiers may reveal some home truths or alternatively paper over some cracks. Still, home advantage counts for a lot and a win is a win is a win.

Speaking of South Americans the fifth placed nation in that region will be noting Australia's progress carefully. The Socceroos take on the African champions Tunisia in Leipzig tomorrow and have a good chance of winning. Despite shipping eight goals they still put two past Argentina and three past Germany after all and so will surely be fired up for taking on what could be Uruguay, Paraguay or Colombia in the World Cup play-off. With Saudi Arabia, Iran, Japan and South Korea making it from Asia the Aussies will still fancy their chances of making it via Asia in 2010, if FIFA, as widely expected, ratifies their application to leave OCEANIA in September.

The German media has got a thing about nicknames and whilst Germany are the 'dancing boys' after their goal celebrations on Saturday, Argentina are the 'tango-troup' and Japan's goalscorer Matsashi Oguro the oddly-named "Sushi-Bomber". Not a food terrorist but just the German word for a goal machine, first applied to the legendary Gerd Muller.

Lastly I received a lengthy email from one of FIFA's top media reps about the ticketing problems I have had (they lost all record of my application so I have had to go cap in hand to each stadium to be let in) which admits there have been errors (at FIFA? Surely not!) and that this tournament is a testing ground for the World Cup. Well I would not say everything has been collapsing around me although the hefty Turkish journalist who leant too much on a desk at the Frankfurt media center yesterday bringng the work surface, computer and all crashing to the floor might beg to differ.

Overall this tournament has been entertaining on the field so is gaining respect and with the glorious weather, no one should really complain.

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