En route to BERLIN, Germany
Ageism: 50 Mundial years (yesterday: another day, and two souvenirs – a Duisburg Zebras toque for my grandson, and a Zebras tumbler thrown in by the kindly fellow at the MSV Duisburg team shop where Italy have taken up residence for the World Cup)
Pallor: Black, red and gold
Forecast: Berlin Mile jammin’
Chris is a great guy. We miss him a lot.
Whew. That’s 50 Mundial years added to my life, and having woken up bolt-upright at 3 a.m. this morning, I’m feeling every one of them. Out so early this morning, like Joe the Lion, made of iron, the street-sweepers with their straw brooms were out.
And for now, a long post: Rating the World Cup stadiums. I haven’t been to near all of ‘em, colleague Cathal doing the northern thang when he was here – maybe I’ll get him to weigh in here in response. These are the ones and what struck me, in order of preference:
1 Westfalenstadion, Dortmund. Talk to Germans and this is the one they call the best stadium in the country. Very easy to see why -- tight to the pitch, a real box, and the stands go up steeply. Big too, with 65,000 capacity for the World Cup and more for the Bundesliga. Overhanging roof really keeps the noise in, a hell of a din. I’d expect that even at the top it’s a real treat. The media tribune seats have been great in here too – third row over the Poland enclosure for Germany-Poland, and fourth row over Brazil for Brazil-Ghana. I also like the vomitories in the corners – that’s what they’re called, honest – where people come in and where you can see outside. At Sydney’s Bondi Beach beach volleyball venue at the 2000 Games it was the same deal. Having a little window to the outside world in the midst of all the madness of a good game is a nice touch. And the media centre, with its pizza and pasta bar and its enormous working area, is the best here by far. One of the best, most atmospheric stadiums I’ve ever been to, anywhere -- I'd put it alongside Fenway, Yankee Stadium, Conseco Fieldhouse and the old Soldier Field for the total package. I’d love to see a Bundesliga game here – someday, I hope to return and do just that.
2. Allianz Arena, Munich. Imagine a three-tiered wedding cake, the frosting being the white translucent cushions that surround the outside, changing colour at night and making it instantly identifiable from a distance, a real landmark. Inside, it’s a fan-friendly place, too, home of Bayern Munich – they had to float a loan to their Munchen rivals to keep them there and helping pay the rent, the two teams’ relationship sort of like the Clippers-Lakers at the Staples Center in L.A. – where there’s not a bad seat in the house. Media tribune is at the top of the first deck – a really good seat. If Dortmund has the footy cathedral here, this is the new-age temple. Designed by an award-winning pair of Swiss architects who are also building Beijing's Olympic Stadium for the next Summer Games, the New Yorker put it this way of the two projects: "Both designs suggest that a sports arena, for all the blood and sweat on the field, can be an exalted space of otherworldly beauty." Only problem is getting to it, out on the northern edge of town and a long hike from the closest train station.
|Olympic Stadium in Berlin prior to the start of the quarterfinal between Germany and Argentina. Final will go down here also.|
3. Fritz-Walter-Stadion, Kaiserslautern. Another temple of the game, located on the top of Betzenburg mountain, although it’s more like a big hillock. Great views of the town below from here and an intimate, rockin’ place to see a game. Even for a visitor like me with casual knowledge of the Bundesliga, you can feel the history and tradition. These are the Green Bay Packers/Saskatchewan Roughriders of German football, a small town that draws on the surrounding region for its fan base, mourning relegation right now. A real treat, but getting in and out of the place can be devilish. Best route down, anyway, is to take the stairs. There’s just one single-lane road leading up for autos and it just gets jammed afterward, as did the area around the station.
4. Franken-Stadion, Nuremberg. Intimate stadium marred only by a running track around the pitch, pushing fans back from the action. Coming in is quite dramatic, the Nuremberg parade ground still standing and quite forbidding, a small lake the size of Grenadier Pond separating it from the stadium grounds. It’s also pretty close to downtown, which is nice. Good place to watch a game, despite that track, very open to the sky and with just one tier – there’s an upper and lower seating area, separated by a ramp – it reminded me a bit of old Empire Stadium in Vancouver.
5. Veltins-Arena, Gelsenkirchen. I saw one game here with the roof open and one closed. The lighting in both cases was murky – I actually preferred it closed, although it got quite clammy for Mexico-Portugal. Okay place to see a game, but nothing special, and the media tribune seats are up top, which is a long way from the pitch.
|Rhein-Energie-Stadion, Cologne. Not a bad seat in the house, but little else.|
6. Rhein-Energie-Stadion, Cologne. For such a cool town, with its cathedral and university and charming little streets, I was disappointed with this place. There’s no running track or anything, and the seating is pretty close to the field, but it’s pretty sterile otherwise. Nothing memorable, though there’s not a bad seat in the house, from what I could see.
7. Waldstadion, Frankfurt. Out a ways, surrounded by a forest, the offices of the Germany soccer federation and a Nike store. But it’s a real long walk from the S-bahn station, and the stadium itself is no great shakes. Media centre is lousy too – very small, so it’s always overcrowded. Don’t like this place much, and that shadow on the field caused by the scoreboard in the England-Paraguay game was as off-putting in person as it was on TV.
8. Gottlieb-Daimler-Stadion, Stuttgart. Saw Ivory Coast-Holland here, and at halftime went to the press centre to watch on TV. My seat, at the back row of the stadium, would’ve been fine at any other of the venues I’ve mentioned. But here, with the running track, the extensive infield and seating that slopes up very gradually, nowhere near the dizzyingly steep pitch of Dortmund – it was fixed up for the world track championships in 1993, and I suppose it would be fine for that kind of stuff – it felt like I was watching all the way from Poland. A pretty charmless place, too, very drab and utilitarian. Won’t miss it at all, it’s the one place here I’ve been that was utterly forgettable.
I’ve yet to see Berlin, and unfortunately I won’t get to see Hamburg, Hannover or Leipzig. But that’s okay. I’ll catch ‘em next time, right?
Germany 1, Argentina 1 aet (Germany wins 4-2 on penalty kicks). It's cloudy and cool here in Berlin, quite unlike the conditions we've seen before at this tournament. A dud of a first half, Argentina slowing the tempo down and playing it cagey, gives way to a gradually more urgent tone ushered in by Ayala's goal early in second half. Klose equalizes as Germans press behind Ballack -- great game -- and sub Odonkor, who might be the fastest player I've seen at the tournament. After 120 minutes it comes down to penalties. Germany hit all four while Lehmann stops two beautifully and there's your final. Tough loss for Argentina, but they were hampered by loss of starting goalie (and a substitution spot). Pekerman will be questioned for leaving Messi on bench and taking out Riquelme, who really didn't do much but he is their general.
Italy 3, Ukraine 0. Didn't see a minute of this, was busy working. But it sure sounds like a comprehensive result. So there's one of your semis: Germany vs Italy, in the splending Dortmund Westfalenstadion on Tuesday. I'll be at it, can't wait.
Brazil vs France. I think this one will be a lot closer than most are thinking. France playing suddenly with some conviction – but does Zinedine Zidane have enough in those bones to summon up one more for the ages and extend his time on this last World Cup stage? A real poser, that. Should be a cracker. Brazil 3, France 2.
England vs Portugal. The red tops are really making hay on Scolari – “Chicken Phil” according to the Daily Mirror, who turned down the England job. Bet shops over ‘ome have posted the following over/under numbers: Trips to the technical area, or the coach’s box – Scolari 16, Eriksson 3; and number of minutes spent sitting on the bench – Scolari 10, Eriksson 84 “or slightly less than Theo Walcott”. Portugal missing Deco and Costinha; England gets Gary Neville back. Edge to Scolari, but that Deco suspension really hurts. England 2, Portugal 1.