Privately, things had been moving again before this final round. Despite the numerous “on and offs” with Annette, Chiara’s mother, we had got together again for a while – a very nice time in the middle of ’97 – and “reaped” the “fruits” of this reconciliation on 30 January: she gave birth to another child together named Ben-Luca.
Micha was no longer a permanent partner. There was no quarrel or anything. He simply turned to more lucrative games, while I continued to think I could get away with football and betting. However, we did have an agreement again for the World Cup. He had found some interesting big players, I supplied him with numbers. In addition, another betting colleague from Austria had made the same proposal to me as Jessi had four years before. He gets the numbers, I get half the bets. Jessi also still existed, but only ever gave away extracts of bets on my numbers. On top of that, I had placed heaps of bets with foreign bookmakers, as usual. All the gambling had become a bit more difficult. But that wasn’t because it was no longer possible to play large amounts. It was more because there were hardly any mistakes, because everyone knew everything – thanks to the internet. You knew all the prices, even those of others, and all the price movements. In addition, there was already the betting exchange betfair, where you could get your bets from private to private, so to speak, and no longer even had to rely on traditional bookmakers. And, as I learned later, this World Cup also included the first appearance and influence of the Asian betting market, which later became so important.
For the duration of the World Cup, all laws were suspended anyway. Even then, no one had any qualms about blatantly indulging in their betting passion. You learned everything about the games, you discussed them, you bet. That applied to everyone. And I discriminated against women again?!
The German team, as always, had marched easily through the qualifiers. No question about it. In the preliminary round, they were drawn against the USA, Iran and Yugoslavia. Once again, it looked like a walkover and it was. According to my obviously unobjective assessment, the performances were anything but grandiose. Nevertheless, we won the group. In the round of 16, they met Mexico. And honestly asked for my opinion: Mexico was the better team in this match. But the Germans won. That’s how football works. Haven’t you understood that yet?
For a German, all this is self-evident. But you’d better not lose. Oh dear. There is no sparing of malice, maliciousness, recriminations and accusations. If I remember correctly, the entire German squad decided to voluntarily take a bath in rotten eggs and tomatoes for training purposes. Because that was what they had to be prepared for on their return. If anyone came at all and wanted to waste their rotten eggs for such a purpose. Those lousy kickers weren’t worth it after all. And Berti Vogts was “sent to the desert” in the true sense of the word. We don’t want to see such a failure again in this country – how, pray, was he able to field Wörns in the first place? – we don’t want to see any more of him in this country. The semi-final is the minimum. And if “you” lose there, we will generously spread the mantle of forgiveness over you. Unless, of course, you only finish fourth…
The quarter-final against Croatia really had a special background. I had just bet on Germany to win. The odds were 1.70, which is quite small. My computer would have willingly paid 1.80. I started an attempt to take advantage of the Germans’ luck and bet DM 8,000 on a victory. In principle, I was betting against myself and against my own basic principle. Above all, I bet against my conviction. For I never saw the Germans as being as strong as their successes. They were often no worse than the competition. That may be so. Although there would be enough examples of that, too, in individual games. All in all, of course, this was true of all the major nations. Sometimes you are worse, you lose. Sometimes you’re worse, you win. Sometimes you’re better, you lose, and sometimes you’re better, you win. Pretty normal. It’s only when the Germans play that it’s different. No matter whether better or worse…
I had placed my bet with the simple reasoning: I just play them because they always win. You could also say that I entered a contest that was: “My bad luck against your good luck.” But I came out the clear winner. Or is 0:3 not clear enough? As in the ’92 European final, I successfully “provoked” a German defeat. With the consequences described above. But who believes me?
The game looked like this: Germany started strongly and had two chances. Then Christian Wörns was justifiably sent off. And with 10 against 11, and against a really good Croatian team, nothing could be done. Davor Suker, later top scorer, was the star. But otherwise it was a great team.
My 8,000 DM “went beginng”, went begging, were gone. Well, you have to put up with that. Satisfaction in the form of a gratifying media reaction, recognition for the achievement of being among the best eight in the world, or possibly sadness or even regret – I knew I would wait in vain for something like that. Germany was out. A national disaster.
Only abroad were people rubbing their hands. No one knew who they had to thank for it. Just jump on the lucky train? No, Pauli, not like that…
The rest of the tournament was nevertheless a success in financial terms. I am particularly indebted to Paraguay, who in a defensive battle wrestled a 0-0 draw from Spain in the final group game and thus knocked their opponents out. In this match, something else was remarkable and, frankly, a real lucky story on my part: at half-time, Andy called from Graz. Live betting was just about to become popular. I hadn’t given it any serious thought yet, just briefly explained to my computer how it would have to calculate it. And when Andy called, I fired it up. At the break, it spat out a 1.90 on Spain to win. Before the game, my brave rate wasn’t quite in line with the market anyway, a 1.55. But to go up to 1.90 at the break? No one would have dared. The Spanish knew what was at stake and had to win the game. As things stand today, I would pay a maximum of 1.65 under these circumstances. I guess the market wouldn’t see it much differently. The 1.90 was a mistake. And apart from all the other bets I already had on the “Spain win” and “Spain advance” events, that was another DM 6,000 Following the old wives’ knitting pattern….
I had made a mistake and was exposed to a huge swing on the victory or non-victory of the Spaniards. But it went well. These are real holidays. But you also have to be honest with yourself: it was luck. It was also the case that no major team had been eliminated at that point, so you could still have paid out plenty in the combos of all the favourites to progress that I had received from Andy, if….
After that, Belgium failed in their match against South Korea and not everything else went “according to plan”. Andy’s bets were only a threat for a short time, where we had already started to think about insurance bets to be armed against the SuperGAU.
Micha also always had plenty of bets from his people, which I only got in part. But at this World Cup, in addition to live betting, over/under betting also became (more) popular. Michael’s people bet with great enthusiasm on many or few goals. As a rule, the “line” is the two and a half goal mark. So if you bet on “over” you usually bet on “three or more goals”, if you bet on “under” you bet on “at most two goals”.
So it happened that the last group match of the Brazil group also got a special significance. Brazil was already through and could afford a defeat. Norway, their opponents, needed a win, and in the parallel match one of the two teams, Scotland or Morocco, had to win if possible.
Morocco did so in convincing style, while Brazil remained goalless against Norway for a long time. The Micha.people had all bet on “over” in the Brazil game, so we gradually went shopping with the then expected profit. Around the 80th minute, Brazil took the lead, not earlier. This reassured us in that we had to expect manipulation, or at least fear it, since a defeat would not hurt Brazil and they could distort the competition with an insipid performance. So while we went virtual shopping, Morocco were gradually preparing to celebrate at their own score of 3-0.
Then suddenly Norway equalised, 86. An alarm signal for us, probably more than that for Morocco. Helplessly, we all had to watch as the ref awarded Norway a penalty in the 89th, which was converted. Honestly, my own fate moved me less for the moment when I had to look at the stunned and soon after crying Moroccans…. And I dare not say anything bad about Brazil. But it’s worth thinking about whether they might not take their foot off the gas after all…?
Other fates, no Germans ever cared about, no, almost tragedies, took place in other games. For example, the heavyweights Argentina and England had to play each other in the last 16 (!) – and I allow myself the provocative question: Why does something like this never happen to Germany? – and one of the two would fall by the wayside. As much as I like Argentine football, in this duel my sympathies were clearly with the English. Especially since I see their bad luck so often and therefore just wish them luck. Also, as a friend of justice, I have to say in this duel there was only one deserving winner. And that was England. The referee denied an absolutely obvious penalty in extra time, had two opportunities to make up for the, in my opinion, justified sending-off of Beckham, who was lying on his stomach on the ground and lifted his leg — without any risk of injury to the opponent, I would like to emphasise — but still obviously against the opponent, and put down an Argentinian. So once again England had to go into a penalty shoot-out in a heroic battle and there you could say you already guessed the fate: “It will only end in tears…”.
Spectacular was the Danish equaliser against Brazil, which was temporarily very favourable for me, when Brian Laudrup scored to make it 2:2 and brazenly declared the well-kept lawn to be a sunbathing lawn. As a “jubilant pose”, he boredly propped his elbow on the grass and his head on it, so that one would have liked to hand him the newspaper right away. He “gave the Brazilian a drink” en passant, not worth mentioning. A sensational cheer. The equaliser was only “temporary” in that it did not last. Denmark lost the game 2:3,
A very pleasing goal was also scored in the quarter-final match between Holland and Brazil. Brazil was in front, 1:0, but Holland was pressing. And in fact Dennis Bergkamp equalised in the 86th minute. Why do I know that so well? Goals like that at such times are memorable. Especially as I really couldn’t stand the tension in the game and have to take the comparison with the tiger upon myself. But a rather leaping one. Because in the 86th minute, I reached the ceiling like a tiger without any effort… Holland was still eliminated, after extra time.
What about my Italians? Well, they didn’t do much wrong in this tournament either. Quarter-finals, there they meet France (just to remind you: Germany had Croatia, and with all due respect – but they are out), the game ends 0-0, over 120 minutes, and then a missed penalty. Un calcio di rigore, si dice in italiano, and then you can say “che sfortuna”. Fortuna would be luck, sfortuna is the opposite.
For once, the best teams of the tournament were allowed to play the final – “since Germany was not there”; I can’t help myself here and it’s actually not even sarcastic. France as hosts and with a huge squad and Brazil because, apart from their occasional arrogance, they are simply always among the best, if they are not simply.
For me, the final has special sentimental value because of this: I had done my odds and could find no fault with considering this pairing even. So the odds on both sides were a 2.45. But something seemed to be wrong with this assessment and I am still puzzling over what it could have been? France was strong as an ox and had the home advantage, which I don’t think plays such a big role in a final, but still. So it happened that Jessi called me twice within 10 minutes. I sat on my bike, picked up my mobile phone and heard, “20,000 DM on Brazil is it possible?” “Yes, it works.” The next call: “Another 20,000 DM on Brazil. Can you do it?” “Yes, it’s possible.”
That was still two days before the game. I was in a way expectant. I had long since stopped being afraid, because a win was certain for this tournament. Moreover, I was also sure of my assessment for this one time and, in addition, I was convinced that there may be or have been manipulations in every game, but in the last place in this one. It was a fair fight for assessments. And that’s where I feel comfortable.
The game itself became a pure joy-fest for me. Zinedine Zidane, a feast for the eyes, ears and tongue – eyes- because of the way he moves and caresses the ball, ears- because of the sound of the name and tongue- because of… say the name –, headed in twice in almost identical fashion. 2:0. 3:0 in injury time. It doesn’t get any better than that.
German characteristics and envy and resentment – wasn’t there something? Let the reader give free rein to his feelings: a cash check showed a net profit of DM 80,000. And I emphasise, as usual provocatively: NET. And I probably underestimated… I’m already looking forward to the next one… Who spoke of a “catastrophic World Cup”?