The World Cup is supposed to be in part a German rebranding exercise, and the host team began the tournament here on Friday night by tossing out a load of old assumptions – both about German football and the way these tournaments are supposed
Instead of the traditionally fearful opening match, Germany and Costa Rica staged a rather crazed fiesta that ended in a 4-2 win for Germany. There were three goals in the first 17 minutes and, in the end, two each for the German striker Miroslav Klose and Paulo Wanchope of Costa Rica.
If the World Cup carries on like this, global productivity will plummet because no one will take their eyes off the screen. However, excitement in Germany might be a bit muted. Or it should be.
Normally, a touch of fallibility in the opening match is a good omen. It suggests the team is just getting their act together to peak at
the right moment. The Germans are the past masters
But against one of the weakest teams of the 32 here, Germany made the kind of errors that may not be capable of improvement. Twice Wanchope – who at Derby and Manchester City had the reputation of being an engaging but exasperating player – found gaping holes at the heart of their defence. If he could do
that almost single-handedly,
then Germany might tremble at the thought of what Brazil, or indeed England, might do. And the Costa Rican defence was obviously built of straw.
That said, it really was great fun. Three scores in the first 17 minutes would be a lively start to a Rugby World Cup. Philippe Lahm cut inside after six minutes; Wanchope equalised after being left clear in the 12th; then a nicely crafted
German move from the byline ended with Klose running it home.
Somehow, Germany never seemed in danger of not winning, and everyone was relaxed. The Costa Ricans were having fun, which is how they play; German supporters were content to let loose the patriotism that, outside the stadium, they prefer to keep bottled up; neutrals were entranced.
The pace slackened just a little either side of half-time. Then Klose, who scored a hat-trick against Saudi Arabia in Germany’s opening match in 2002, made it 3-1 before Wanchope cut the lead to 3-2 with another lope through. Indeed, he might have had a hat-trick himself: once he beat two defenders on the left but, like a charging rhino, seemed to forget what he was doing and why. It was as though the Costa Ricans sensed that if they stopped Germany winning, it would spoil the party.
Any thought of that ended four minutes from time when Torsten Frings scored the goal of the game – which is saying something: a long-range screamer.
This was a far more entertaining way to start a football tournament than the official opening ceremony that preceded it. The show was cut down from Olympic length to just 40 minutes. There was still the usual line of kitsch local folk traditions, in this case involving Bavarian drummers in lederhosen, goatherds cracking huge whips (to keep away wolves) and thigh-slapping swains. But there were two nice touches. As a combination to appeal to global masculine tastes, it is hard to beat Pelé, the greatest of all World Cup players, and Claudia Schiffer, the German supermodel. And they were joined by survivors of previous winning teams, including two Uruguayans, champions 56 years ago. They looked proud, arthritic and misty-eyed.
Their presence provided a sense of history, of the tie that binds this overwhelming planetary event with its haphazard origins. They made this feel like Remembrance Day, where every year one or two more old comrades fail to return for the parade. And football is often a game with a short memory.