Saturday, June 10, 2006

A Muted Opening

The World Cup has never been bigger, richer, more hyped or more eagerly anticipated but the opening was more fairground ride than Ride of the Valkyries.

After a rather low-budget opening ceremony in comparison to some recent extravaganzas such as Italia '90 and USA '94, Munich's space age Allianz Arena produced more of the atmosphere of a trade fair than the World Cup, despite a goal fest of an opening encounter. I wonder how much of the crowd were corporate slugs on a freebie instead of real fans, who surely would have made more noise.

As the camera panned along the German team during the national anthem the players looked nervous and overawed. Also, could you recognise many of them? Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose are useful strikers but you would not swap either of them for Michael Owen or Wayne Rooney, Henrik Larsson or Zlatan Ibrahimovic and they are a pale shadow of Germany's 1990 World Cup winning strike duo of Jurgen Klinsmann and Rudi Voller.

Ah yes Klinsmann, holder of the poisoned chalice of national coach of a below-par World Cup host. The barrage of criticism and expectation he has bore on his shoulders was evident in his exuberant celebrations of German goals.

Yes it is true, the Germans are not world beaters this time. But they did score four great goals today. Mind you, the Ticos' 3-5-2 formation allowed the hosts the freedom of the flanks and both sides looked somewhat reedy, untelepathic and chivalrous in defence.

It was an unusually entertaining overture to the big show, helped by the maiden flight of the latest ball, that swerved in the air like the cheap plastic versions you can buy in petrol stations. We only had to wait three minutes before the first refereeing error but we still await the first scandalous mistake with relish.

The Poland v Ecuador match was more the type of thing we were expecting. In fact it was mediocre in quality with Poland particularly disappointing as they misplaced pass after pass and overhit ball after ball.

The South Americans performed some heroic last-ditch defending and their possession style allowed them to comfortably dictate the game once they went two goals up. Assuming the host nation will win the group, then England should have nothing to fear from facing the second-placed team.

I was reminded how the first round is by far the most enjoyable of the tournament, even if it is the knock-out stages which are recalled in the future. Thirty-two teams and sets of fans are involved and everyone is enthusiastic and happy, until the football starts.

Copyright (c) Sean O'Conor and Soccerphile.com

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