I’ll confront the reader right away with the absolutely shocking realisation for the soon-to-be-named “summer fairy tale”: For me, the World Cup was not only weak but also boring. There were hardly any good games and also very little suspense, let alone any big “sensations”.
It was very strange for me that Ghana’s success in the preliminary round should be sold as such a sensation. They beat the Czech Republic. That’s right. That was “the result” of the World Cup, if you like. Before that, they had dutifully lost to Italy. In the last group game, they only needed a draw against the USA. For me, the USA were clearly better, but still lost 1:2. A real sensation. Only: compared to all the previous tournaments, I don’t think a single result like that is much.
Remember how willy-nilly the teams from Togo, Trinidad & Tobago, Costa Rica, Tunisia, Iran, Angola or Saudi Arabia went away. There was no resistance in totally boring games. Even the colourful Côte d’Ivoire and Japan, who had previously been regarded as serious contenders, left without a trace.
Incidentally, my memory tells me that there were no exciting matches or group constellations. The internet enlightens me. Ghana was then just as hopelessly knocked out in the round of 16, so that the football world could be regarded as “whole”, in that only the big nations were allowed to play each other. For me, this was both unpleasant from a betting point of view and uninteresting from a footballing point of view.
Germany had established their summer fairytale by managing to beat Poland 1-0 in injury time. It was certainly a very good game, undeniably so, with emotions erupting when the deserved winning goal was scored to make it 1-0. However, a small objection may be allowed that glorifies a 1:0 success in a home match against the small neighbour from Poland. No question, it was an experience, the game. And it didn’t cost me anything either, financially speaking. In that sense, I was “neutral”.
What I remember most from the preliminary round was the game between Croatia and Japan: Croatia had worked out a winning plan. It was to exploit their physical superiority by hitting high balls into the opponent’s penalty area. Then, at some point, someone would be able to win the header duel with an estimated average height difference of 13 centimetres and place the ball in the goal. The referee, however, had his interpretation of the situation: Every won header duel of a Croatian he generally considered as foul play, probably because of propping up, since it seemed so unusual to him that always an attacker came to the ball, and blew the whistle. The tactic didn’t work, it just couldn’t work. There must have been 25 balls that were “defended” in this way. In the next game, Croatia managed to score the 2-1 against Australia shortly before the end, but they conceded the equaliser again immediately afterwards and were out. At least it was a match that offered some excitement in terms of the course of events and the sequence of goals.
The round of sixteen once again offered two giants. The first was Spain against France, in which the Spaniards had to say goodbye. A 1:3 score at least sounds like a halfway interesting game, considering the number of goals. And Portugal against Holland, which the Portuguese won 1:0. Just a question that has to be asked: Why does Germany never have such opponents?
Otherwise, boredom was the trump card. England against Ecuador 1:0, a great football result. Isn’t it? Italy 1:0 against Australia. Shortly before the end, Italy’s penalty kick, which was justified, was “taken” by the cleverly acting Grosso. The worst of all games, however, was Switzerland against Ukraine, in which neither team had even one real goal-scoring chance over the entire 120 minutes, as far as I remember, and the Swiss were even unable to take advantage of their three really big chances afterwards, namely the three penalties. Unbelievable! But are these really the events that provide novel material? 1:0 or 0:0 games, games without any enthusiasm, without any drama and without any real scoring chances that saw the favourites through in the end? Apart from that, the Swiss misses also cost me a lot of money, as the Swiss were one of my insider tips, plus my money was placed against the really weak Ukrainians.
In this respect, a compliment to the German team. Their eighth-final match against Sweden really swept you off your feet. It was such irresistible football, it was inspiring, thrilling, fascinating. I can acknowledge that without envy. That’s how football should be. Lightning-fast combinations in which neither the opponent nor the spectator can foresee the next play-off station and yet the balls arrive, followed by the perfect goal. Under these circumstances, it is easy to forget that the two main players, the dream duo Klose and Podolski, were originally Polish…
Financially, it was also bearable, as I saw no particular reason to go against Germany in this tournament. So from the quarter-finals on, there were only heavyweight duels. Ok, the only outsider, Ukraine, who for me had no justification whatsoever to be there, and not only because it had cost me money, They had already played the one quite horrible game against Tunisia in the preliminary round, about as weak a game as they had played against Switzerland, and only with extremely generous help from the referee, who wrongly disallowed two Tunisian goals, which they then won 1-0 (!; probably the standard football result for the future?!). This underdog was dispatched 3-0 by Italy. That way my sense of justice was restored.
The other games? England – Portugal 0:0. Extra time. 0:0. Great. Dramatic. Penalty shoot-out. What was that all about? Portugal went through. I’d prefer a coin toss. France versus Brazil. Oh, a goal! There’s no such thing. But really only one. And that’s for France. May the best man win! The drama came in Germany against Argentina. And here even the Chancellor expressed one of her enthusiasms about football and the drama in the goal sequence: “Great how the Germans turned the game around.” And not enough with that I absolutely understand her in that statement. In fact, she is absolutely right. The “turning” consisted of turning a 0:1 into a 1:1. And a look at all the other results reveals that there was practically no such accumulation of drama in the entire tournament. Wow! “So, just imagine. A football match. One team is leading, yeah? Do you follow me?” “Yes, I’m listening. I’m trying to put myself in the game.” “Ok, so the one team is leading, 1-0, yeah?” “Yeah, okay.” “And then, imagine. The other team scores the equalizer. 1-1.” “No, I don’t think so. What? They were already leading, weren’t they? So you mean they were leading and didn’t win in the end, right?” “Yes, exactly like that.” “Gosh, madness, now I see what you mean. I think I’ll go back to the stadium next week. Such drama. I wouldn’t have thought it possible. You’re bound to get out of your seat.”
That’s how it was. The thing was shot. It was incredible. But it wasn’t enough for a summer fairytale. Olli Kahn, who had been booted out, had to go to his rival Jens Lehmann and pass him a note before the penalty shoot-out. That’s what the cameras caught. An act of camaraderie and humanity that has become so rare in the otherwise tough professional business. It inevitably brings tears to one’s eyes. Shouldn’t Olli Kahn have done everything he could to make Lehmann look like a failure and rather have given the Argentinians a slip of paper, but rather before the final? No, such camaraderie, really. A conspiratorial bunch. Even the biggest enemy becomes a friend. I’m completely enraptured. Later, the note was even auctioned off. The content of the valuable message? I didn’t look at it and would have just laughed anyway. But I had an idea what he might have written: “No matter where they shoot, we will win. We are Germans and we always win. Hugh, I have spoken.”
And so it happened. Germany in the semi-finals. But given the performances of the other teams, I don’t want to talk it down at all this time. It could have been different and all. Even if I stick to the idea that it was true…
The rude awakening was yet to come. And now there really was a hail of goals. The hail of goals started relatively late. In the 119th minute, to be precise. The Italians already struck then. And one minute later the second. Germany out. I had carefully saved my Chinese firecrackers from New Year’s Eve for some big event. And I was able to set off two of them. But this time it was also financially lucrative….
Germany then held off Portugal in another really good football match and came third. A good result. And in terms of football, it was precisely this team that set the highlights, no question about it.
The final was also unrivalled in terms of drama. Two goals were scored in the first half, which is hard to believe. They were fairly distributed. 1-1. Extra time. 1-1. Penalty shoot-out. Zidane was already down after the legendary headbutt against the provocative Materazzi, so maybe that’s why the French lost. And, quite honestly, this success of the Italians gave me no cause for joy. Only to the small satisfaction that, despite the occasional unlucky sequences, they were now ahead of Germany: four titles against three. And they really are better too…
To sum up the tournament, I would nevertheless like to draw attention to the rules, their interpretation and the referees: all the games are close and on the line. Here you go. People are afraid of making a mistake that leads to a goal. Nations can be plunged into mourning, entire empires can collapse. Fine. But still we have a sport. And to protect and defend it too. Waiting for someone to score a goal in every game, and if so, who, is certainly not an exciting question for me. Especially not when the winner is determined by that one goal. 1:0, that’s it. Now you can switch off the box. Nothing more is guaranteed to happen. Unless Germany plays and turns it around… Isn’t that right, Mrs Merkel?
What do the referees have to do with it? They only whistle what they see, don’t they? I have my doubts here. The tendency is clearly against the strikers. What was introduced by the Americans for the 94 World Cup as a great improvement, no, almost the only enforceable improvement – to give the attacker the benefit of the doubt in offside decisions – has long since been reversed. A female spectator just interviewed at the 2006 World Cup gave the absolutely correct answer to the question of what offside is? “Offside is always when someone is free.” That’s exactly what it was. And that’s exactly how it was whistled. The reflex: “Wow, he’s free. Quickly raise the flag.” The fact that in 5 out of 10 cases the cameras proved afterwards that it wasn’t offside was no longer noticed by anyone. These are often the greatest goal-scoring chances and the most exciting game situations. This is what the fan wants to see (except perhaps the very few non-neutral spectators who are on the side of the defenders). One man alone free in front of goal. And every time the anti-climax. Regardless of whether it is true or not, the whistle is blown. The consequence: no more goals. The death of football.
The game between Croatia and Japan proved to me that the whistle can also be blown for every goal scored from inside the penalty area and that they can simply call a striker’s foul – of course without any fear of negative career consequences. “How did the game end?” “The referee decided it was 0-0.” The referees are always in the clear when they stop play situations, blow the whistle. They are never prosecuted for that. Even when clear goals are whistled back (Ukraine – Tunisia!). But woe betide anyone who gives a penalty or even a goal that was not correct. He must expect long penalties. I therefore call for a rethink! We need goals in the game. The one who does not acknowledge a goal that was correct must expect the same consequences as the one who acknowledges an incorrect goal. An overlooked offside decision must be treated just as mercifully as the offside proven after the third camera shot and slow motion that led to a goal! Then there will be goals and suspense again. And then we can really say again: Today is football. I’m going.
By the way, the spot of colour at this World Cup is definitely GERMANY.