Sunday was a day of experiences. The Dom held a short-lived interest with the idea that once you´ve seen one cathedral, you´ve seen them all. Each seems to boast that it is the best or highest something, and the Kölner Dom is no different. Besides, if anyone wanted to be a tourist in Germany, and to see German culture, the WC is the worst time to do it.
Having watched the Holland\Serbia & Montenegro game in the Fan Fest I can say without hesitation that the Oranje are, as the Germans say, verrückt. That Sunday evening led to my first ever World Cup match. Having seen games in the since renamed League 2, League 1, Championship, Premiership, FA cup, League cup, UEFA cup and World Cup Qualifying, it was something of a religious pilgrimage to make the trip to Germany. It is probably worth noting that itäs the occasion which becomes spiritual rather than the place. The Rhein-Energie Stadion in Köln is not the best in the country by a long way but it still has a good atmosphere. In opposite corners of the stadium it was apparent the official fan clubs were segregated. Not to steretype too much, but the Angolans were all about the partying and the Portugese about the passion. As a former Portuguese colony I wasn´t sure of the political situations between the fans, but all seemed to be harmless. As for the match itself, I was impressed in the first half hour but the game needed more goals to make it a spectacle. Cristiano Ronaldo was trying, and to a greater extent succeeding in pulling off his usual repertoire of tricks. It was disappointing to see him constantly looking for fouls. Not that he was diving, but he was never adverse to running into someone to get a free kick. In contrast, Luis Figo seemed to have very little energy. Not that he wasn´t trying, but perhaps at his age he is merely being efficient in his movement. The goal was created by Figo as he showed his class to get past his defender. At that point I thought the game would be a rout for Portugal, but Angola rallied and had some good shots in the second half. They seemed rather defensive and lacked that final quality you need in a World Cup. Akwa was skillful but I was dissapointed to see him make way for Mantorras, rather than play alongside him. As it was, the game was a decent enough introduction to World Cup football.
The entire set-up reeked of contrasts. Ronaldo showed the best and worst of modern football with his tricks and his constant search for a foul. Luis Figo had all of the craft and none of the effort. The Angolan fans were terrific, many were leaning out of cars and chasing the trams on the way to the ground. The Portuguese were a sea of green and red. Yet they occupied only two corners of the ground. Everywhere you could see sponsors t-shirts or even worse empty seats, plus a plethora of neutrals, such as me. It felt a little like an exhibition match in that respect, because the atmosphere was only luke warm. It is perhaps a criticism of the ticketing system so that tickets are so much in demand that people will take in any game even if they don´t have a vested interest. The advertising was also a little grotesque. I can appreciate the need for sponsors but I think after a certain point it becomes counter-productive. People often complained that Mastercard had the monopoly on ticket sales and the abundance of Budweiser products plus the rest soured the purity of the football. Every advertisement was a company tipping their hat off to a fellow sponsor, it was horrible. I believe it was a relief to many when the football actuallzy started. To my eternal joy my seat was located on the first row of the second tier alongside the pitch, one of the best views in the stadium. But of course I was stopped from hanging my flag over the ledge because, as the steward informed me, FIFA regulations state no flags can hang alongside the pitch due to TV cameras, but it´s fine to hang them behind the goals. Go figure.
After the game I felt it customary to abuse the allowance of alcohol in the streets and joined some Irish boys in town. They had bought their tickets from scalpers for 180 Euros each. Don´t ask me what Irish people are doing at a World Cup they are not involved in, but Irish men don´t seem to need a reason to do anything.