Germany 2006 Day 6

Prediction-wise, I was right, half-right, and wrong.

Spain 4-0 Ukraine

Well, the Spanish have arrived, and in no uncertain terms. Two goals within 17 mins, and another two after the Ukrainians had a man sent off.

(BTW, I wonder what the stat is for the most number of players red-carded in the first round of the group stages. Maybe I should have been paying attention to the commentary, they probably told me)

Simply put, this is the way most teams would like to kick off their World Cup campaign. Viva Espana! (with apologies for the lack of the accent).

Tunisia 2-2 Saudi Arabia

Well, I called Tunisia, and until stoppage time, I was dead wrong. Then I became half-right. Neither side really impressed me, but both seem worth keeping an eye on.

(BTW, I wonder what the stat is for the most number of games whose result has changed in stoppage time .. wait .. didn't I already try this line?)

Considering how bad of a drubbing the Saudis received at the hands of Germany in Korea/Japan '02, I'd bet they were grateful to get away with this group this time around...

And, finally, on to the game to which everything else that happened today was mere background:

Germany 1-0 Poland

A lot more Americans I'm meeting are starting to grasp the huge rivalries that exist between teams on the world's biggest stage. England and Argentina, which goes back to us handing them a drubbing over the Falkland Islands not long before Diego Maradona was using the infamous "Hand of God" to send us out of the World Cup. England and Germany, which most people think goes back to WWI and WWII, but in fact goes back way further than that. England and France, which goes back to 1066, and further. Oh, and those are just the ones that England are involved in.

An ESPN commentator identified the German-Polish rivalry as dating from the German invasion of Poland in the beginning of WWII, which is true, but not the whole story. Germany and Poland are neighbours which, in Europe, means they've been scrapping since before they even were Germany and Poland.

Okay, so nowadays we exchange flags at the beginning of the game and shirts at the end, instead of bullets and bombs on the battlefield, but we're all still fighting.

And what a fight this was. Evenly matched, neither side could get anything until Sobolewski was sent off (that's another for the stat) in the 74th minute. Even down to ten men, Germany couldn't quite finish until stoppage time (and there's the other stat) when Neuville slotted one home.

But never mind the goal, what about those two misses in the dying seconds of regulation time? First Klose slams a header which seems certain to go in the net, only to have it bounce back off of the crossbar, and then Ballack hits the same frikkin' spot from the rebound!!

I was on my feet, heart in my throat, eyes wide, screaming. I was completely gone. I didn't care who was about to win or lose, all tactical thoughts about England being better off if Germany lost this one were gone, this was football, pure and simple.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is why there is a World Cup.

Okay, tomorrow brings Ecuador vs Costa Rica, England vs Trinidad & Tobago, and Sweden vs Paraguay.

I'm taking Ecuador, England (but, of course) and Paraguay to upset the Swedes. And that last one isn't such a long shot given how well Paraguay played against England, and how pants the Swedes were against Trinidad & Tobago.

BTW, England vs Trinidad & Tobago beautifully illustrates another reason why there is a World Cup; tiny first-timers Trinidad & Tobago get to go up against one of the most established teams in the world. The team ranked 1,000-1 against winning gets to square off against an England side that many bookies have as one of the favourites.

And as the great Jimmy Greaves put it, "Football: it's a funny old game".

There are no guarantees.

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