June 30...Day 31
World Cup Final day dawned brilliantly, the sun shone down on Cologne and I enjoyed a wee smirk to myself when Sky News broke the shocking news than it was single-fishing it down on Bonnie Scotland. And on the Greenock
Fair weekend too! My heart bled for you - honest! – as I went out for an early morning stroll to absorb the atmosphere. The German flag hung from many windows but this seemed to me like a show of defiance, a declaration of hope that their team might get lucky, rather than any genuine expectation of success. But the place was buzzing, faces were being painted, flags and T-shirts were being sold and some swallying was being done.
My plan was to watch the game in the Altstadt area of the city but The Koelsch assured me Der Ring was the place to be. The police had shut off the streets to traffic and, with no shortage of pubs in the locality, there was much pre-match merrymaking. However, the opportunity to be guest of honour at a family barbeque arose and LBB,
purely out of good manners you understand, just couldn`t say No. There then followed a madcap dash to get to the venue before the kick-off and a lovely lady called Carmen – her surname might have been Schumacher! –got us
from Cologne to Norf Neuss, near Dusseldorf, in little more than 15 minutes. Just in time for introductions, a quick beer, then all eyes were nailed to the box.
Well, Germany certainly surprised more than a few folk, not least of all the Germans themselves. Everybody knewBrazil had the superior players and expected them to do the business...or would they have an off day? Ronaldo didn`t look too hot in the first half. He shot well wide of goal when it looked easier to hit the target, miskicked
when put clean through on Khan, then was unlucky to see the keeper block a low shot just before half-time. A Kleberson effort against the crossbar didn`t exactly underline Brazil`s superiority but it gave the Germans a sense of impending doom.
Yet the scoresheet was still blank at the interval and the notion that, having taken all that Brazil could throw at them, Rudi Voller`s team might have a trick or two up the sleeve, began to cross a German mind or two. Their team really went for it at the start of the second half and suddenly the red-hot favourites were in trouble. A Jeremies header was blocked in the goalmouth and a Neuville free-kick was touched on to the post by keeper Marcos as the game showed signs of turning. Every doubting German now believed it might be their day and I too shared that view.
Then BANG! it was beam-me-up-Scottie time.
In the 67th minute Ronaldo set up Rivaldo who got in a shot at goal. He didn`t connect properly and everyone surely expected Khan to hoover it up but, inexplicably, the keeper fumbled the ball and Ronaldo, who hadn`t stopped moving since passing to his team-mate, ran on to a tap-in. In an instant the upbeat barbie turned into a wake and I must confess to feeling some sympathy for my hosts. But I had to choke a snigger when a close-up of Khan hanging on to the net flashed across the screen. Is there any truth to the rumour that Michael Mols pulled a muscle doing a manic dance, a dozen laps around his TV set?
Despite the loss of the goal, Germany kept at it but nobody really expected them to come back. Ronaldo`s classy second goal, created by a brilliant Rivaldo dummy, wrapped things up eleven minutes from the end. There was still for another excellent save from Marcos - have Brazil found a half-decent keeper at last? – fingertipping a Bierhoff shot around the post, before the real Brazilian party started. They play the game the right way and, when their flair and expression is rewarded at the highest level, everybody should be happy, not just guys like me who tipped them
right from the start.
All around me, The Koelsch, Helmut, Martin, Oscar and their good ladies looked like they`d had their pockets dipped but, slowly but surely, the recognition that `the worst German team in history` might not be so bad after all put a smile on a few fizzogs.
Being Cologne fans, my pals don`t have a great deal of time for Bayer Leverkusen so, with Neuville, Ramelow, Schneider and the suspended Ballack all being part of the Leverkusen side which lost out in the European Cup Final, the German Cup Final and the Bundesliga, there was a `second best again guys` crack from someone. Of course, their team-mate Lucio, having suffered all the same agonies, now had something to brag about. I´ll bet there will be plenty of banter in that dressing room when pre-season training starts.
I must say how impressed I was by how well the German people took the disappointment. After a liquid port-mortem at Norf Neuss (pronounced Norf Noise – no, not another protest meeting at Pittodrie), we headed back to Cologne and the city was still in a party mood. We did the grand tour, touching glasses with a few familiar faces and touching other things on some unfamiliar frauleins, and I had to pinch myself for a reminder that Germany had actually lost. My liver would have taken one helluva pounding if they`d won!!!
It was only when someone started to talk about the next World Cup – Germany are the hosts in 2006 – that it struck me that this one is now over. Sixty-four matches, twice as many diary articles (it seems like that anyway!) and God only knows how many heavy bevvy sessions later, it is finito. I have thoroughly enjoyed it all. Sure, there were one
or two dull games – England v Nigeria the worst by a distance – but the overwhelming memory is one of excitement, surprise and some bloody good football. The perfectionists can moan about the overall quality of the play but you won`t hear me complaining. How would any real fitba fan have got through this summer without it?
My stars have been Turkish keeper Rustu, if only for proving that every pony-tailed keeper isn`t a numpty, Japan`s Arsenal reject Inamoto, and each and every Wan For Muni and Too Fur Sho Korean who lit up my TV screen. But Ronaldo was the main man, putting all his injury worries behind him, consigning his previous anonymous World Cup Final apperarance to the pages of ancient history and once more looking like the best player on the planet. I`d sell my soul to see him in a blue jersey!!!
LITTLE BOY BLUE
PS Tell every bookie you know, LBB`s coming home for his dough.