- The Washington Times - Friday, July 14, 2006

After spending 34 days in Germany, it’s time to look back on the good, the bad and the ugly of the 18th World Cup.

Overall the Germans did a great job in holding the finals. Even though some Germans were reluctant at first, everyone in the host country seemed to jump on the World Cup bandwagon. When Germany opened with a 4-2 win over Costa Rica, the pre-tournament cynicism that abounded about the team’s prospects seemed to be dispelled.

Then began a big month-long carnival with the colors of Germany’s flag as a backdrop. Germany didn’t win the World Cup, but the celebration following the 3-1 win over Portugal for the bronze medal, seemed like it had. German coach Juergen Klinsmann’s goal celebrations will be missed. What enthusiasm he had. In many ways Klinsmann is the hero of the World Cup. He got a moderately talented team to play the exciting attacking soccer that he once exhibited in his heyday as a player.

The German organizers also gave the fans who didn’t have tickets to games the chance to watch matches on giant outdoor screens at Fan Fests and offered numerous activities and entertainment on the Fan Miles. Consequently, there was little trouble and the police kept a low profile.

For many, the atmosphere in Germany and the general organization of the event made up for the soccer, which tended to be dominated by defensive play and cautious attacks.

Most of the stadiums in Germany were adequate, but having England play an opening round game at the venue in Nuremberg (capacity of 36,898) seemed silly when there were enough English fans outside to fill a stadium three times that size.

Dortmund (60,000) for me was the best stadium followed by Munich (59,000). The crowd in Dortmund venue is right on top of the field and the dugout. The atmosphere there for the semifinal game between Germany and Italy was amazing and that match has to go down as one of the best of the tournament. The final in Berlin was exciting, but the track around the field and the distance from the sidelines makes it hard to get a good view of the action.

The most colorful and loyal fans were the South Koreans, who chanted, sang and banged drums in amazing coordination from start to finish.

The quietest fans were those from Saudi Arabia. The most polite were the fans from Ukraine. The most boisterous fans were the Polish and English. The most intoxicated were the Germans. The most musical were from Angola, which brought along a 10-piece band.

The decision to stick the U.S. team way up in Hamburg — about as far away as it could get from the venues it played in — was a hard to understand. The security at the U.S. team hotel, which was downtown near the train station, was tight with a security guards at every door and the street in front of hotel was closed.

Far too many players spent too much trying to earn fouls rather than play soccer. And some of the officiating was awful. Australia was done in by a late penalty kick awarded to Italy that could have gone either way. Thierry Henry dropped to the ground as if he were hit by a Scud missile in the Spain game. Then Henry fell dramatically to win a penalty kick against Portugal. Meanwhile, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo’s dribbling skills almost match his ability to take dives. Italy’s Daniele De Rossi’s elbow on Brian McBride was ugly, but couldn’t match Zinedine Zidane’s mindless head-butt to the chest of Marco Materazzi, who then made a pizza out of it.

Was it a great World Cup? No. There was a lot left to be desired. Brazil, Argentina, England, Spain and Holland all failed to live up to their potential. Italy won, but France was clearly playing the better soccer in the final game until Zidane lost it. Sadly, the final always will be remembered for Zidane’s moment of madness.

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