Today I went to the Temple of Gelsenkirchen for the game between Argentina and Serbia, and even Montenegro. God was there. The clergy prayed, he preached, and a miracle occurred.
Last time I was at this stadium, I arrived at kick-off and got no build up of tension. This time around, I was able to take in the full atmosphere and engage my senses long before kick-off. For all their rivalries with England, there is also a mutual respect. Two sets of differently passionate fans and two differently styled teams. The sea of blue and white almost made the stadium bounce up and down in tangent with the movements of the crowd, and it wasn´t long before they had cause to celebrate. At all 3 matches I have been to, there has been a goal within the first 6 minutes.
The roof on this occasion was completely closed, and the air conditioned so that no temperature was instantly noticeable. Being on just the second row you realise just how the grass can be removed from the stadium. The pitch is on a platform creatig a moat of sorts separating the players and the fans. It would take a brave streaker to make that leap.
Argentina oozed quality and a free-flow of expressions that would match their Brazilian rivals. By the end of the game I had seen Riquelme, Crespo, Saviola, Tevez and Messi, all of whom are already true stars. Whilst Serbia didn´t provide too much of a fight, Argentina looked totally at ease with themselves and never seemed to be playing at full throttle. Meanwhile the fans were paying less attention to the pitch and more to events occurring just above me.
Just like the Pope at the Vatican, Maradona was on the balcony looking out over his wellwishers. He danced and bounced, shouted and screamed, and waved to the fans who regard him as some kind of deity. As someone who never saw him play and have since only heard and seen bad things, you have to admire the way in which Maradona is revered in Argentina. The man can do no wrong by them and in return he gives them all the hope they need to be able to crush teams like Serbia.
The World Cup itself has failed to ignite the imaginations of the masses, as the only upset so far has been the success of the Ecuador team, hardly a shock of massive proportions. The plucky underdogs have played well against the bigger teams, but essentially fallen at the last hurdle. Poland, Costa Rica, Trinidad & Tobago and the Ivory Coast have all fallen by the wayside despite decent performances. It is perhaps the way that the game is going that with so much at stake, a more conservative brand of football is proving to be the most successful. For that reason I was more than happy to applaud Argentina today, as they played in the way all World Cup matches should be.