Ageism: 37 Mundial years added
Forecast: Stinkin’ hot
I had a great seat for Germany-Sweden on Saturday: three rows off the pitch, right over the Sweden enclosure, close enough to watch the impeccably turned-out Juergen Klinsmann at work and near enough to hear Lars Lagerbeck’s exhortations and curses, especially after Henrik Larsson skied that penalty – for a media tribune, that’s about as good as it gets. From so low down, the three-tiered Allianz Arena appeared even vaster than it seems from the outside, where it’s recognizable from miles away, a big white pillow in the distance.
Then I spotted them, three rows up in the next section over. The red and white Canada Cat in the Hat hats, with the Maple Leaf on them, were a dead giveaway. And there seemed to be a lot of them, holding up Canadian flags and cheering with the rest of the crowd as the teams came on the field.
You see lone Canadian flags at World Cup stadiums quite often, and pairs of fans coming in wearing their national pride on their backs, their butts, over their shoulders, on their heads. During drowsy times in games, you imagine a corner filled with this kind of sight – instead of those 6,000 or so Swedes turning that far end into a monotonous yellow, consider its red and white equivalent.
And here were not just a couple but 10: Seven girls from Sudbury’s under-16 Ontario Youth Soccer League team, their coach and a couple of parents. They were obviously having a great time, taking pictures, yelling their lungs out and occasionally glancing around the stadium like I was, taking it all in.
I went up at haltime and talked to Lucie Tagliafierro, one of the parents. Turns out they’ve been planning this trip for two years, raising money to pay for it through silent auctions, car washes and the like. Included was a World Cup finals game, just a game – and here they were in the 6th row, almost at midfield, ringside seats to watch Germany’s gathering storm engulf Sweden.
“We knew it was going to be good,” said Lucie. “We never realized we’d be this close. This is fantastic.”
Outside the stadium, the remainder of the Sudbury U-16 party, including the six remaining players, were hanging out. They drew lots to see who would get the tickets, and these were the lucky ones.
“We’ve had it pretty hectic since arriving here from Toronto at 10 a.m. yesterday (Sunday) morning,” she said. “The hardest thing has been figuring out Toronto’s subway system when we came down from Sudbury. It’s been go go go since we landed. We went to tour a castle, Ludwig II’s castle, and this morning they had an hour and a half practice with one of the German national women’s team coaches from here in Bavaria.”
Today they’ll play in a tournament here and do some more training later in the week. Then it’s on to Italy and southern France for more training and games, then up to Paris and home on July 17. That’s a pretty impressive itinerary. What a trip this will be for them – and here we are, they're barely arrived, and already they’re at a World Cup game. It's their only one, but still . . .
I look into that corner of the stadium where all of Sweden’s supporters sit, look back at the girls in red and white, look back at the corner – maybe some day, eh? Then I think of Frank Yallop’s abrupt resignation. Frankly, knowing how well the Canada women's programme has done, I think these girls have a better chance of being out there on the field.
Quote of the day
Italy's La Republicca on England's Peter Crouch (from The Observer): "England have a lot of great players but owe their progress mainly to a stork with bird flu. The thing is he isn't even that good with his head. He is a basketball player, as agile as Nelson's column."
England 1, Ecuador 0. Forecast in Stuttgart is a scorching hot 34C. I can hear Svennis moaning already. England continue to pay just good enough to win, a Beckham free kick from about 30 yards out that the 'keeper could've done a better job on the only goal. Not an artistic masterpiece otherwise, and on the TV here they showed a replay of Posh celebrating more than they did the goal.
(Postscript: At the urging of fellow Canadian Stephen Brunt, I put 5 euros on 6-to-1 Ecuador here, noting the heat and the English's harping on it beforehand. It was a fruitful trip back to the shop too -- put 5 euros on Time On at Saint-Cloud in the Prix de Malleret and she went wire to wire. The 13-euro profit knocks the deficit here down to 21 euros, before today's games. We're coming back.)
Portugal 1, Netherlands 0. The play at the shop this morning: 5 euros on the Dutch to win at 7-to-5 odds. And it's a loser, but what a loser: 16 yellow cards, 4 reds, the referee making a complete shambles of this one. England to face Portugal on Saturday, but the Portuguese will be missing those two sent off here: midfielders Deco and Costinha. England into the semis?
Italy vs Australia. Suspensions: Italy’s missing Daniele De Rossi and Australia’s minus Brett Emerton, and the Azzurri are further down a defender with Alessandro Nesta out injured. Lippi sticking with Francesco Totti, who’s picked up some media criticism for his out-of-form play. Midfielder Pirlo’s been Italy’s best player at this tournament, but he sometimes disappears. Aussies have an upset chance -- if this is a bet, I may well go with them at good value -- but I’m leaning to the favourites. Italy 2, Australia 0.
Switzerland vs Ukraine. Philippe Senderos, one of my first round all-World Cup XI, is out with a shoulder dislocation. He’ll be missed on a side that didn’t give up a goal in group play. Ukraine have two defenders suspended for cards (Rusol, Sviderskvi). Slight edge to Swiss because of that, Barnetta an unnerving matchup for anyone, let alone a pair of replacements. Switzerland 2, Ukraine 1.