DB’s World Cup Diary – Germany 2006
In 2006 I travelled to Germany for the FIFA World Cup. During my travels I wrote weekly articles for the Matamata Chronicle. I have combined these articles and will present them in two parts – pre-tournament and during-tournament. Part 1 is posted here.
I continued this diary for South Africa 2010 and I’ve posted that series here.
Football at last! (Originally published on June 27, 2006)
After more than two weeks on the road we finally got to see some live football. It was worth the wait, mainly for the atmosphere and the chance to visit a couple of truly breath-taking stadiums.
Last weekend we spent in Munich and were blown away by the friendliness of the city. Ten days in Italy had left us slightly on edge so it was great to be able to really relax. All weekend the main square, the Marienplatz, was full of Aussie and Brazil fans, along with people from many other nations. On Sunday we took a trip out to the stadium for an hour or so before making it back into town in time to watch the game.
The area around the ground was choked with people, with more than a few still looking for match tickets. It was a fun, unthreatening environment, with no trouble in sight.
The Germans have made a deliberate choice to allow fans from all countries to mix and, so far, this has paid off spectacularly. The police do, of course, have a large and visible presence, but they always seem to be in the background, secure in the knowledge that they know that you know they are there.
After Munich we caught the train up to Hannover in the northern part of the country. Hannover is a unique city. Clean, modern and vibrant, while still containing enough historic points of interest to keep any tourist busy, it also has some of the weirdest looking people you are ever likely to come across. It wasn’t just one or two, they were everywhere. I felt right at home.
We were in Hannover to watch Poland play Costa Rica. It wasn’t a remarkable match, won 2-1 by the Poles, but that didn’t matter. We had arrived at the World Cup and were finally a part of it. There must have been more than 30,000 Polish fans in the 43,000 seat stadium and they made a lot of noise. Every one of them had a football scarf and it looked like a red and white wave circling the ground when they started swinging them ’round their heads. Our single black and white Matamata Swifts scarf looked a little out of place.
Two days later we could be found in Hamburg for what was probably the single biggest game of the group phase. Neither Italy nor the Czech Republic, two of the best teams in the world, had secured passage through to the second round and they both needed to win. I felt a little guilty walking into the stadium past hundreds of ticketless fans from both countries and did wonder (for maybe a few seconds) how much money we could have made if we had sold our tickets. A conservative estimate would have been something in the region of 250 Euros (NZ$500) a piece.
Of course, we held on to our tickets and experienced one of the best football occasions you’re ever likely to experience. The game itself was almost an afterthought, though. While the quality of the football was better than the Poland game, it was the stuff that happened off the pitch that grabbed the attention. The banks of fans in red or blue, all chanting, singing and desperate for their team to win, created the type environment you just don’t get for any other sport.
As a neutral, it became quite obvious that Italy would win, particularly after they took an early lead. It was fun, however, to watch the range of emotions their fans, many of who were seated near us, went through before the final whistle. Anger, hope, despair and, finally, elation. I think it’s called passion. Sporting events just aren’t like this back home.
Italy won 2-0 and that meant the Czechs, currently ranked number two in the world, were out. African nation, Ghana, will join the Azzuri in the next round instead.
We were made to feel a little inadequate during this game. Seated in a section of the ground with a handful of other Kiwis we got chatting with a guy from Wellington and he told us he and his mate had managed to secure tickets to eleven games at this World Cup. Eleven games!! Our three match allocation pales in comparison.
A proper global game (Originally published on July 4, 2006)
I’m in a hotel room in Amsterdam and it’s a Friday night. I should really be out having a look at some of the weird and wonderful things this crazy city has to offer, but I’m sitting here typing the latest instalment of what has hopefully become a compelling serial. I hope you appreciate the sacrifice I’m making.
In my defence, it’s late and we have an early flight tomorrow.
Actually, I’m watching the second half of the Italy v Ukraine quarter final, a game the Italians are running away with. This is a surprise, in a way, because the Italians have not looked good so far in this tournament. I mean, it took a pretty rough penalty in the 5th minute of injury time to get them past the Aussies. Maybe they have decided to come good at the right time.
We saw the first quarter final, between Germany and Argentina, in a bar earlier today. Argentina looked the better team but the Germans managed to level the game at 1-1 late on and take the game to penalties, and everyone knows what happens when the Germans are in a penalty shoot-out. Their passage to the semi-finals will be good for the tournament because it will keep the fun, euphoric, celebratory atmosphere going for a few more days.
Germany is certainly the place to be at the moment. We were in Cologne last weekend and found out just how much this whole thing means to the people. The streets were dead while they played Sweden in their first knock-out game, but filled up immediately after their victory. There were happy Germans all over the place. Car horns blaring, flags waving and broad smiles everywhere. I could just imagine how the place will go off if they actually manage to win the whole thing.
Cologne was the venue of the final World Cup game we had tickets for. Another fantastic stadium, but we had the misfortune of sitting down to watch two hours of goal-less football as Switzerland and the Ukraine played out the single worst match of this competition. The football really was tedious. Boring. It was almost as bad as watching a game of rugby.
The saving grace was that the penalty shoot-out took place in the goal directly below our seats. So we, at least, got some good photos.
We also had it brought home to us just how global the World Cup is. We had two guys from Vietnam sitting in front of us, a handful of Caymen Islanders to our right, a couple of Kiwis to our left and a bunch of Irish blokes behind us. Not to mention all the Swiss, Ukranians, Germans, French, English and countless other nationalities all around. I’ve been asked to keep this brief this week so I’ll wrap things up here. I promise to let you know more in my final instalment next week.
Home (Originally published on July 11, 2006)
By the time you read this you’ll know who has won the World Cup. I’m hoping for an Italian victory, but I have a sneaking suspicion the match will have ended 0-0 with the French victorious on penalties. So far, however, my predictions for this tournament have been regularly lacking in accuracy. Remember, in an earlier article I stated the final would probably be between Brazil and the Netherlands. Not long after that I emailed a mate and told him that Italy would not win this tournament. So, what do I know.
I’m writing this on Sunday morning having just watched Germany beat Portugal 3-1 in the 3rd place play-off thanks to some stunning goals. This was the right result and reward for all they, along with the German people, have given this tournament. Our perfectly organised trip home allowed us to arrive back in the country on Friday, just in time to rest up for the final two matches and having watched the French mercifully beat the Portuguese in the second semi-final. Portugal, despite having a host of talented players in their squad, would not have made too many friends. Their theatrics, annoying at first, then plain boring, turned many people against them. It was satisfying to see that style of play prove to be unfruitful.
If I have one regret from our trip it is that I didn’t have a team to genuinely support. I got jealous watching the Aussies, Brazilians, Poles, Italians and others go through all the emotions involved with having a stake in team competing in such an event. I desperately wish that sometime during my lifetime New Zealand manage to make it to the World Cup so that I get to have those feelings too. Moreover, it is something that, as a proud kiwi, I hope New Zealand and New Zealanders also get to experience. You can only hope. [Little did we know then what was to happen only four years later.]
Here are a few of my highlights and lowlights from the last month.
1. Germany. The whole country has been in party mode for a month. Millions of fans from Europe and around the world combined to make this a true tournament for the people. I don’t think the average kiwi would appreciate just how impressive the atmosphere was, both inside and, especially, outside the stadiums. In short, Germany went off.
2. The stadiums. Eden Park and Jade Stadium have nothing on the twelve impressive venues used for this World Cup. Stunning locations, unique architecture and genuine, unmanufactured atmosphere. Light years ahead of what we have for big sporting events in this country. Awe inspiring.
1. The diving. Oh how I wish this blight on the game would be wiped out. Players should take more responsibility, but the best way to stop it would be for FIFA to review each match on video after it’s finished and award retrospective yellow cards. Teams would soon change their tactics if they know they don’t just have a single referee to con.
2. Coming home. I’ve only been back in the country a couple of days and I’ve already read a couple of newspaper articles that make me despair. The writers have picked up on a couple of themes (the diving and the defensive nature of some of the knock-out games) in an attempt to justify why they think football is crap and rugby rules. It’s not and it doesn’t and I just wish that one day our sporting media would get this chip off their collective shoulders.
And so we look forward to South Africa in 2010. The Africans have a lot to live up to, but I am sure they’ll give it their best shot. I’m already making plans to be there!
Part 1 of DB’s Diary – Germany 2006 is posted here.