Normally, of course, the World Cup starts with a match that makes everybody wonder what all the fuss was about. Four years ago, a singularly charmless Senegal team touched down in Japan and won an abysmal game against France by a single goal. It was living proof that everyone plays the European way now. Maybe the players just used to get dizzied and blinded by the opening ceremonies: the dancing, the ribbons and the speeches. Not this time, though.
The Germans had provided us with an opening ceremony to be proud of. For once, it was kept relatively low-key – children in the kits of the previous winners being led around holding signs reminiscent of the the sign that Eric Morecambe held up in aa episode of Morecambe & Wise with “LUTON FC” written on it. We were singularly unimpressed by Sepp Blatter’s decision to hold a minute’s silence for “everyone in the football world that can’t be here today”, but fortunately, the referee seemed to agree with me. It lasted barely fifteen seconds before we kicked off.
Well, you all watched it, so I’ll spare you the details. Suffice to say that I never thought I’d see a German side playing in the style of Holland 74 or Brazil 70, but there they were, attacking all-out, even with the lead precariously balanced at 3-2. It wasn’t so much that Jurgen Kilnsmann had had given no thought to his defensive tactics. You could see from the television camera angle that there were four defenders out there. In fact, it was rather too obvious, as his defesive tactics appeared to be to play in the style of a bar football game. His defenders stood for the whole game in an exact straight line. It would have worked, but for the couple of occasions that one of them forgot this one tactic that they seemed to have. Both times, Costa Rica found that a simple ball between the two statuesque defenders was sufficient to get them a goal.
Going forward, the Germans looked dangerous, but they were helped out by a Costa Rican defence that seemed a little too keen to join in the carnival atmosphere. The second goal, from Klose, was assisted by his marker and the goalkeeper both standing appaling for offside as he belted the ball into the net. Otherwise, the Germans had been doing plenty of training with the all-new (lighter than ever!) balls. The way they moved in the air was noticeable with every shot, although Mark Lawrenson didn’t seem to notice this until the fourth goal, whereupon he exclaimed, “look at the movement on that ball!”, as if the rest of us somehow hadn’t noticed the shots ballooning over the crossbar and mis-placed long passes.
On this evidence, Germany won’t win the World Cup. Defensively shoddy, they will get found out by stronger teams. They won’t ping in two long-range goals every game either (even though, on the evidence we saw, they’ve been instructed to shoot from anywhere within thirty-five yards of goal), and, whilst Miroslav Klose looks like the real deal up front, he lacks real quality in support. Their other two goals were helped along by extremely accomodating defending, and, even after half-time, there were no changes made to the defensive “system”. If they sort that out, though, they could well be quite formidable opponents.