I was awoken by Three Lions being played over the military BFBS Radio One on felt that today would be a good one. Czech Republic versus USA should have been an equally fought match and promised to be a spectacle. Gelsenkirchen was also a well-liked stadium and promised something different.
Of course too much of a good thing can make you complacent, so I was dragged down to earth quickly enough when the train to Gelsenkirchen stopped after a short while. We could all smell smoke and sure enough the front of the train was on fire. Added to this the fact my window was broken, and you start to wonder whether it will be a sign of things to come. There were many Americans on the train but none seemed to have any tickets. It was a strange situation to note. I can imagine the likes of England and Italy having hoards of ticketless fans following them, but not USA fans. The delay was perhaps 20 minutes but in the sweltering heat it felt like 20 lifetimes. Upon alighting from the train I was met by a massive swell of both American and Czech fans. Both sets were in good voice and the atmosphere electric. It was probably for the best that I did not see any of Gelsenkirchen because it didn´t seem overly inviting. The stadium itself is located in the middle of nowhere. That would suggest that at the end of nowhere, is somewhere, but alas there is more nowhere after that. It seems as if someone suggested they build a stadium there, then built the town as an afterthought. For all the misgivings, the stadium is a very good one. The roof was partially open and the air was controlled so that you couldn´t really feel any kind of temperature or humidity. The Arena effect meant that the atmosphere bounced off the walls. My only criticism is perhaps that it was too good. It felt artificial. The air wasn´t hot, the pitch looked like it had been recently painted green and it leant itself no flexibility. It felt as if it would be no different in there even if it was -10º outside and in the middle of a blizzard. It made ideal football conditions, but one of the draws of football is its unpredictability and I didn´t get that feeling.
The match itself was even less of a contest than the Angola\Portugal one, but the quality much higher. I was disappointed not to see Milan Baros play, but there were plenty of others on show. Pavel Nedved and in particular Tomas Rosicky stood out as a class above. Rosicky will prove to be an asset to Arsenal with his pace and deft of touch. The USA weren´t outclassed all over the pitch, but rather had no route to goal. The Czech Republic had options everywhere – the height of Koller, the skill of Nedved and the speed of Rosicky, but with only Brian McBride as an out-and-out striker it meant the USA couldn´t break through the defence. Claudio Reyna hit the post and perhaps would have made a better game had it gone in, but things were not on the US side.
On my return to Köln it must have slipped my mind that Italy had just won the World Cup, or so it seemed. Hohezollernring was awash with Italians in cars, on mopeds and on foot flying their flags and bleating their horns. Chants were constant and the celebrating intense. Rather than winning the World Cup outright, they had merely beaten footballing minnows Ghana in their first match. It remains to be seen what celebrations will be like if the Italians do actually achieve something worthwhile.
As for the rest of today I feel it my duty to visit the Rhein. That and the Dom were the obvious landmarks I noted from the plane, so it demans a visit I feel. I´m looking forward to England\Trinidad on the 15th, and then I´m going back to Gelsenkirchen for Argentina\Serbia & Montenegro on the 16th. Bis bald!