Wednesday, June 21, 2006

WORLD CUP ALMANAC. Day 10, 11, 12

Back in the wagon train now, about to saddle up for Gelsenkirchen again. Four days off the beaten track, in Maastricht, Trier, Bernkastel-Kues and Koblenz, all of which except the latter offered almost total respite from the World Cup hilarity, and a surprising lack of internet access, hence the tardiness of the latest update. Still, well rested its good to be back amongst it for the final push, and Portugal v Mexico today should get the juices flowing again.

Our sojourn began in Maastricht, a lovely little southern Dutch town of cobbled streets, which are firmly the domain of countless cyclists. Then it was back to Germany and Trier, near the border with Luxembourg. The heavy heat subdues even further this sleepy border town, and there’s no sign of the WM-2006 passing through. Only a couple of hours from host cities like Cologne, Frankfurt and, closer still, Kaiserslautern, but the contrast to the boozy, multi-coloured battalions of the main World Cup battlegrounds is pronounced.

Elderly tourists stroll through the streets or sit outside cafes and ice-cream parlours, melting in the oppressive afternoon sun. Trier is not bustling, rather today is barely murmuring. A couple busk in the street, she on out of tune guitar, he on noodling jazz keyboard, performing songs like “The Banks of the Ohio” in the style of those bizarre Pop Idol auditions they only broadcast for cheap laughs. That this is the only sound to be heard apart from the occasional church bells adds to the surrealness.

This is Riesling country, so we take a bus out to a Weinstube to taste the local produce. A rotund chap called Hermann, who has evidently spent a pleasant Sunday morning enjoying the fruits of his labours, mumbles and points his (inordinately thick, like a battered sausage) finger towards the wine. There are eight to be tasted, ranging from Ribena-like and harmless to sickly sweet and syrupy, with your classic Riesling somewhere in the middle.

That’s about it though, there’s not much else you can do with wine other than swish it about your mouth, sniff the bouquet and swallow, and as the joys of Riesling remain hidden to me, I don’t even buy a bottle for my troubles. Stick to the beer, mate.

At which point, and deciding that all that remains to be done in Trier is to have a beer and watch the football, I enjoy another brew for the ‘best of’ list: Schofferhofer Kristallweiss, a Weissbier with the freshness and sparkle of a Pils and settle in to see if Brazil can provide alternative entertainment to Sonny and Cher out in the square.

Brazil seem out of tune themselves still, however. The champions are disjointed and lacking in confidence, and, rather than looking like the fulcrum of a fabled attacking quartet, Ronaldo appears more suited to lining up at the Masters Football alongside Kenny Sansom and Matt Le Tissier. Once again the burly Real Madrid man is sacrificed, and Robinho’s introduction livens Brazil up.

But Brazil also cede a lot of possession and territory to the Australians and their inability to dominate their games in the traditional manner is worrying. Certainly, compared to the quality of Argentina’s destruction of Serbia, the Brazilians look decidedly unfearsome.

Monday takes us deeper into the Moselle valley to the charming town of Bernkastel-Kues: Bernkastel on one side of the river, Kues on the other. More wine-tasting here, in the company of a burly lady who, for some reason, assumes we are military men. Presumably this is because of the thousand-yard stares and killers’ physiques we possess.

Bernkastel-Kues must be where Germans go to die. There is almost no-one under the age of 65 and the general air of picture-postcard prettiness and coach tour creakiness, while undoubtedly relaxing, soon leaves you checking yourself for a pulse.

Up to Koblenz then, the end of the Moselle wine road and the point at which that river runs into the Rhine. Enough wine and roses, time ease ourselves back into the swing of things, which means the Germany v Ecuador match in a park by the river. But 45 minutes of drizzle and beer in a plastic cup is 45 minutes too many, so we find a bar, with real glasses and everything, for the second half.

The Ecuadorians don’t turn up, happy enough at having qualified and looking forward to a second-round match against England as reward for their successful tournament so far. Meanwhile, more momentum for Germany, who now have a bit of a strut about them, and a man in the goals in Miroslav Klose.

England just about seal top spot in their group, and avoid a second round match with the Germans, but its another pretty listless performance with two new, further woes: injury to Michael Owen, leaving England’s already paltry striking larder positively cobwebbed, and the loss of two goals from balls into the box suggesting hitherto unexpected troubles in central defence.

Sooner or later Eriksson will have to justify his selection of Theo Walcott in the squad, a decision which the Swede seems to be almost pretending he never made. By now Jermaine Defoe, for example, would have had a run-out, especially given the lack of fitness of England’s two main strikers, but in Walcott’s case, it seems that Eriksson is waiting for the genuine desperation situation.

Rooney’s lack of sharpness was repeatedly evident, especially in the minutes before his substitution when several balls played into his path were approached with tired lunges as opposed to his usual voracious enthusiasm.

Still, as demonstrated by Joe Cole’s wonderful goal and Steven Gerrard’s headed second, England have enough players capable of the spectacular to get them well into the latter stages, and, as they are on course to meet Portugal, one of the more manageable of the top seeded teams, in the quarter-finals, it could be a semi-final before their inability to control a game and dominate possession cost them.

7 Comments:

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