Friday, July 09, 2010

392. Spain Brings Germany to Heel 1-0

 The Germans had been doing so well, racking up four goals in three separate matches, and they'd been playing a very attractive kind of football. They were so lightning quick on the counter-attack and could move the ball down the field in seconds. England looked absolutely stodgy and clueless against them and the vaunted Argentines simply fell apart. Then they came up against (arguably) the best team in the world. They certainly didn't buckle under and held on as dangerous contenders throughout most of the game. The Spanish were just the better team. The score doesn't really reflect the psychological game. The eager young German team tried everything and none of it worked. The Spanish foiled all of their moves and took over the game, inexorably imposing their superiority. The Germans simply couldn't rattle them. The header was brutal, to be honest, had nothing to do with the finesse of the passing game till then, but you could almost see the Germans losing heart. Schweinsteiger (pig-climber?) started losing his cool as did Ozil and Klose -- my personal bete-noir for reasons below -- and desperation began to set in. They began to realise they couldn't crack the Spanish defence. It was an absolutely intriguing game to watch.

Fair dues to the Germans, though. They were a young team with many players brought up from their Under-21s -- England take note!! -- and they played excellent attacking football against the big-name stars of the Premier League and South America. Spain simply contained them and then struck for the winning goal. Germany were hardly humiliated but they were taught a lesson in football all the same. You can be sure many of these same German players will show up in World Cup 2014 with more experience and could prove to be even more lethal. They played extemely well and they have nothing to be ashamed of.

I was hoping for a Holland-Germany final, if only for the drama. It would be like Celtic-Rangers on the world stage. Every match these two teams play is a mini-war with sheer hatred being the driving force. In the runup to the England-Germany match the British tabloids were plugging the Battle of Britain and World War Two but the Germans were basically indifferent. They are never indifferent when they play against Holland which they see as their main rivalry.

Too bad about that. Spain-Holland (a European Final, who says we've lost the plot and become a shower of wimps?) is almost as good, but the Dutch are going to have a hard time cracking the Spanish nut. The Dutch are tough, spirited and opportunistic in the best traditions of high-seas piracy but this Spanish team is so good, so confident, so abundantly bursting with talent that they'd be very lucky to win. Even so, this is football. You can never predict what is going to happen. We have a good match to look forward to next Sunday!

In my unbounded enthusiasm for the Spanish team I nearly forgot to add on the reasons I dislike Klose and would like to give him a good root up the arse. It goes back, as many things do, to the World Cup in Japan/Korea in 2002.

It was impossible to get tickets. People who were here then can remember that distinctly. Anyway, a pal from Ireland was coming over with spares and I could go to all three matches in the qualifying round if I wanted. This was June, but with the end of term exams looming I couldn't go mad altogether. Choose one, I told myself. Obviously that would be Germany-Ireland.

We met up in Tokyo and went off in a cattle train to the ground in Ibaraki. You can read the details here.

The Irish fans outnumbered the Germans by about 10-1. It was a Sea of Green and the Japanese wearing German kit were suitably intimidated. We had the bodhrans going ratatatat and we were roaring out The Fields of Athenry. The German team looked rattled when their national anthem sort of drifted away into the sultry air and ours shook the very foundations of the stadium. The match was nervy to start with as many first round matches are. The Germans were the superior team but the Irish were doing what they do best, tackling very hard, chasing every ball, and mounting unexpected counterattacks. The first half was inconclusive until Klose, an incomparable predator it has to be said, got his head to a high ball in the area just below where we were sitting and flicked an unstoppable header past Shay Given. It was a brilliant goal, but it's what happened next that pissed us off. He did his usual run and slide along his knees, fists pumping. So far what you'd expect. Then he stood up and shook his fist at the Irish fans in the stand with a look of pure malice on his narrow face. What?? This was met with a shower of Boos. Righty-o, mate, your card is marked!

End of first-half. Ireland down 1-0 ... I mean, it was a good goal ,,, but the fans are seething over this arrogant bastard. Second half goes back and forth, a few chances here and there, nothing serious, time starts running away. Next thing you know we're into overtime -- 4 minutes. First minute, nothing happens; second and third minutes, ditto, and then in the last thirty seconds of the game Robbie Keane bursts through into the area and slots one past the large and hairy German goalkeeper, Kahn. Goal! For a moment there is stunned silence and then the whole stadium erupts in a roar of delight from the throats of 5 or 6000 Irishmen. Tweet! goes the whistle and that'ts the end of the match. The German team seems to disappear in about twenty seconds and the Irish do the rounds of the pitch soaking up the cheers of the fans for ... oh, I don't know ... 10, 15, 20 minutes?

I'd told my school I'd be away for two days. But the match is on Tuesday (or Wednesday, or whatever, it was a weekday) and you can return that night or the next morning, surely? Ahh, no, I don't think so. My friends want me to show them around Tokyo. Total bullshit. I knew damn well that win, draw, or lose we'd be legless until 4 or 5 o'clock in the morning either celebrating or commiserating and that I'd be in no fit state for any sort of social intercommunication until well into the following afternoon and possibly for some time thereafter. Good thinking for so it proved. The Irish took over half the bars of Tokyo that night with our flags and songs. Ah, Klose, you miserable bastard: it's never as easy as you think!