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No D in Germany

A questionable back line could doom the home team

Posted: Friday June 9, 2006 4:01PM; Updated: Wednesday June 14, 2006 2:43PM
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Paolo Wanchope (left) had no trouble getting through Germany's defense, scoring both of Costa Rica's goals.
Paolo Wanchope (left) had no trouble getting through Germany's defense, scoring both of Costa Rica's goals.
Michael Steele/Getty Images

MUNICH -- The World Cup got started -- really got started -- around 4:15 p.m. local time, an hour and 45 minutes before the kickoff of the first match, Germany's 4-2 win over Costa Rica. Munich's World Cup Stadium was about one-third full, with a solid block of Ticos fans forming a red sea in the far corner. As the German team wandered onto the pitch, strains that are quite familiar to football fans began to blare from the P.A. system -- and with them, the crowd came to life.

It was the beginning of Three Lions, the maddeningly catchy song that served as the anthem of England's Euro '96 campaign. If you've been in a bar where they show soccer, you've heard it: "It's coming home, it's coming home, it's coming.... FOOTBALL'S COMING HOME." It was a cheeky move. For starters, England's hopes in Euro '96 were dashed in a penalty-kick loss to Germany. (In fact, the song was reworked for the 1998 World Cup, with updated lyrics to reflect England's latest big tournament bow-out.) "Taking the piss," I believe the British would call that.

More significantly, the Brits claim to have invented the modern game -- hence, their singing "football's coming home" ostensibly had some sort of basis in history. By saying that football's home is actually the Rhineland, the hosts were making the rather bold claim that they've seized ownership of the game, that they're a better provider for it. It was kind of like sidling up to a lady in a bar, taking a look at her man and saying, "Lose the schlub and come home with me, hon. I'll treat you right." (Not that I'd know anything about that.)

But before we dismiss the Germans as louts in pubs looking to steal our women, let's give them a chance. Maybe there's something to this "Home of das fussball" claim. Putting on a great tournament would be a good first step toward proving it, and they seem to be on their way to doing just that. Their fans have been loud, proud and well-behaved. (Anytime the P.A. announcer says a German player's last name, the crowd roars it with him, about 30 times louder than the bleacher creatures at Yankee Stadium are when they chant the Bronx Bombers' starters' names. And they've got names like Schweinsteiger to deal with over here. Not easy on the vocal cords.) Locals are going out of their way to take the "A Time to Make Friends" motto to heart, and with the exception of the occasional one-hour detour on the media shuttle, things have been as smooth as can be expected.