A short private update: As in 1994 and 1998, I quickly took care of the offspring before this World Cup. This time even with my wife. On 28 May I had a whole set of twins. Because when asked: “Are they twins?” I used to answer: “Yes. —– By the sign of the zodiac.” And I didn’t lie one bit to the astonished questioner. Their names are David Gabriel and Giulia Isabelle. And as I said, the puzzlement about the number remains. For twins who are twins could theoretically also be quadruplets, couldn’t they? Especially since, curiosity aside, they chose a wonderful free, unencumbered day. The 27 was reserved for me and my big daughter Chiara, the 29 for the mother of Ben and Chiara, as well as their two bigger children, the 30 again for Ben, so there was still the 28. But as they were 10 weeks early under unbelievable circumstances – unbelievable about that: my wife was already pregnant once in 2001, exactly one year late, also boy and girl, and had to go to hospital on 9 April. The sad, unbelievable news: both out, 22 weeks, not viable; in 2002 again on 9 April to the hospital; this time just barely prevented the premature birth; they probably preferred to be born in the World Cup year? – I didn’t really know in the first few weeks whether I should be happy or just worried. On top of that, my wife also fell ill after the birth – let’s call it “pregnancy depression” – and I spent the weeks of the World Cup practically continuously in hospitals. “On the side” I also had to organise a move….
Memories of this tournament? Sure, I have, and not even a few. Even if the accompanying circumstances prevented pure enjoyment. This year, I simply didn’t bet so intensively. And for a very small satisfaction, I had to wait until the final this time.
Germany marched to the finals once again. The usual picture. Easy group and everyone plays for them. 90% is automatically 100% in German hands. The group opponents were drawn according to German taste and habit: Ireland, Cameroon and Saudi Arabia. In the opening game, they had to deal with the Saudis right from the start. Unlike the United Arab Emirates, none of the Saudis could get a Mercedes for a goal scored this time. But they certainly dusted off a lot of autographs, which the Germans certainly handed out generously after the 8:0. The competition got an impression right away: The “German tanks” were on a “rollover course” again.
The 1:1 against Ireland was certainly no revelation in terms of play. But losing and Germany? That just doesn’t go together. Strangely enough, the Africans were all a bit weaker, in my opinion. After all, it was the Cameroon Lions and most recently the “Supereagles” from Nigeria who had caused quite a stir at previous tournaments? This time Cameroon were strangely pale and had no particular chance in the final game. Germany again through, Germany again group winner, and Germany again with a kind of room lottery for the last 16. Or was Paraguay, of all countries, to be a stumbling block?
No stumbling block. And if the game was roughly even, only one of them would win anyway. But in my opinion, Germany was even a bit better. The 1:0 will be forgotten tomorrow, won’t it? Especially by the media, who are more likely to criticise than celebrate after such a poor victory. That other, equally great nations are already on their way home? World champions France, for example? The Germans’ comment? “They are just too stupid. As world champions, they didn’t even score a goal!” There’s no such thing as bad luck for big shots. But there’s no luck either. And that had to be put to the test again…
Namely at the quarter-final. The fact that the USA was an easy opponent on paper is once again part of the luck. After all, Brazil, England and Spain were still in the tournament? And England, in keeping with tradition, once again had to deal with the overpowering Brazilians. Why doesn’t someone mention that here sometime? We had an easy road. That’s the truth. Everybody knows it, abroad anyway, but nobody says it. Doesn’t this component exist at all?
But that was not enough luck. The USA were a very strong opponent. This time, I can praise the performance of the German team – it was great football – but I must also mention that, in my opinion, the USA were not a bit worse. But there was one curious scene, which apparently a German would simply forget, apart from the numerous other great chances, admittedly on both sides. But the one scene: Christian Wörns fell backwards on the goal line, got the ball on his arm propped up on the ground while sitting down. The discussion that followed? Regrettably, I was unable to follow either American or any other foreign reappraisal of the scene. The German one was more or less along the lines of: yes, handball already, but either the ref didn’t see it or interpreted it as “unintentional”.
For me, however, the term “unintentional” in this context is so meaningless and stupid that I simply can’t believe it. What does it matter whether it was intentional or not? The ball was clearly stopped from an absolutely secured goal by a part of the body not playing the FUSS ball. How can you have a discussion about that? That’s a penalty kick. No ifs, ands or buts about it. Anything else would be window dressing.
Ballack had scored the 1:0 with his head, later the final whistle. Yeah, the Yanks are easy. Two 1-0 wins in a row. The press? “Nothing special.” More criticism than jubilation. What’s wrong with you? You play in a World Cup, you get Haudi-Saudi, Ireland, Cameroon, Paraguay and USA, not a single name so far, you make it to the semi-finals once again and people are still grumbling?
But even now it was far from enough with the German luck. After the old tradition that organisers always get further had already been broken by the double hosting of the European Championships in Holland and Belgium and Belgium got knocked out – as in 2002, when Japan already failed in the preliminary round –, at least South Korea had to transport the euphoria into later rounds. South Korea faced Spain in the quarter-finals. And this game was a real scandal. The fact that they were allowed to kick out Italy beforehand may have been just about justifiable – according to my recollection, there were also a few very strange refereeing decisions. But against Spain it turned into a serious scandal. In extra time, the South Koreans, who were fighting hard, were simply out of their depth. The referee had to close both eyes at least twice, unless tomatoes obstructed his view, to disallow clear goals by the Spaniards. The penalty shoot-out then went to South Korea.
Germany now had South Korea in the semi-finals. Once again, this was tailor-made for them. For once again, the underdog simply could not be “pushed” in this way. Germany just had to reap the harvest. Another 1:0 victory! Another final. Paraguay, USA, South Korea out of the way, fiddled, cleaned up. Simply crazy! We let the Italians, Spaniards, French, Argentinians, English and Portuguese throw each other out and somehow slip through, blind in both eyes, unable to recognise this good fortune, then pat ourselves on the back with satisfaction and say: “Well, where is everyone again? WE are in the final. And you?”
The late satisfaction came in the final. Before the tournament, I had already placed my only really expensive bet on Brazil as world champions. Before the match against Germany, I placed another bet. The Germans just couldn’t do it, could they? Really?
This one time I was lucky, I admit. Because Olli Kahn, who had almost single-handedly made the final for Germany with such incredible and numerous saves, fluffed this one time. And, if you are completely honest, and I like to be when I win, the Germans gave their best performance in this game, they were really close.
It’s also worth noting that the two nations are by far the most successful at World Cups and have consequently played the most World Cup matches. In 2002, they had to play each other for the first time.
Not that Brazil wasn’t the better team. But for me, as a willingly so-called “professional gambler”, the quality, also and especially that of winning bets, must always be checked. And the odds I was offered on Brazil were simply too low for this match. For once, I didn’t care either. The money was in the bag. And the triumph, though late, was intense. The luck just had to run out, didn’t it?
“If not now, when? If not here, tell me where and when?”