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  • Story of Germany '06

    by Jan Alsos

        A unified Germany hosted the World Cup for the first time. The Germans beat South Africa by the tiniest of margins at the FIFA Congress in July 2000 for the right to host the 18th World Cup. There were only a few minor changes from 2002 in terms of the competition format. The defending champions were no longer guaranteed a spot in the next World Cup. Brazil therefore went through qualifiers to be at Germany 2006. In addition, the Golden Goal was replaced with ordinary 2 x 15 minutes of extra-time. FIFA also made sure the teams would get enough rest before the finals. The club season in Europe had to be finished a month before kick-off in Germany. It was a good decision.

        The tournament slogan was "a time to make friends" and Germany made lots of them during the course of the tournament. The whole country embraced the World Cup and millions of visitors from all corners of the world watched matches on big screens in the major cities. The Fan Mile project was a huge success and contributed a great deal in making these finals probably the most successful ever - at least from an off-the-field point of view.

        On the field we saw a positive sign early on although it didn't last the full distance when the tournament reached the knock-out stage. Germany beat Costa Rica 4-2 to the delight of Jürgen Klinsmann who had been under pressure after some poor friendly games. Six goals scored in an opening match was quite unique in the modern era of the World Cup. Due to the above mentioned changes of no secure spot for the champions, the host nation played the opening game instead - a tradition now revived which was kept intact until 1970 when the Jules Rimet Cup-era ended.

        Group A also featured Poland and surprise package Ecuador. The South Americans beat Poland and Costa Rica with some entertaining football and followed the hosts into the knock-out stage. Poland disappointed again although they were brave against Germany, but just like in 2002 they were eliminated already after two games. Costa Rica made little impression this time.

        Group B brought together England and Sweden again in addition to Paraguay and Trinidad & Tobago. It was a low-scoring group with few impressive performances. Sweden drew against T&T and needed a late Ljungberg header to beat Paraguay. England needed late goals to beat T&T and an own goal to beat Paraguay. For the second World Cup running Sven Göran Eriksson drew against his native country - now 2-2 in a fine match which also featured the 2000th goal in World Cup history by Marcus Allbäck. His headed goal was a bit more exclusive than Rob Rensenbrink's penalty which marked the 1000th goal back in 1978. England and Sweden went through like most people predicted, but Trinidad and Tobago put up more resistance than expected.

        Group C had all the action which Group B lacked. Argentina's 6-0 win against Serbia & Montenegro was particularly impressive. Cambiasso's goal after twenty-something passes will go down as one of the best team goals in World Cup history. Also the Netherlands and Cote d'Ivoire impressed from time to time. The game between them was quality wise perhaps the best and tightest in the group. It was sad that three teams couldn't get through from this group. Serbia & Montenegro looked nowhere near as good as in the qualifiers when they topped Spain's group.

        Group D brought together Mexico, Portugal, Iran and Angola. Portugal controlled the group early on when Mexico failed to follow up their win against Iran with another win against Angola. During the third round of matches Angola could have stolen Mexico's spot in the last sixteen had they beaten Iran. Instead Iran equalized and Mexico survived despite losing to Portugal. Iran and Angola were not strong enough on the attacking third of the field to upset any of the top two. Lack of experience may be taken into account also. Despite winning three matches Portugal didn't impress. Mexico, who performed very well in the Confederations Cup the year before, showed nothing of this here.

        Group E was considered one of the toughest before the World Cup began. It contained much drama and thereby lived up to the tag. Three players were sent off in the Italy-USA game. De Rossi's elbow on McBride was particularly ugly. It resulted in a four match ban. The Americans fought bravely and achieved a draw with a man down for almost half the match. The Czechs couldn't follow up their 3-0 win over USA with another win against Ghana. The Africans won 2-0 in one of the best matches in the World Cup and later beat the USA to qualify for the second round as only African team. Italy knocked out the Czechs who missed injured Koller badly.

        Group F featured Brazil who came into the tournament as arguably the hottest favourites ever to win a World Cup. Ronaldinho was expected to write his name with golden letters alongside Pelé and Maradona in the World Cup hall of fame. After Brazil's first match in Berlin against Croatia it was clear that this team couldn't live up to the hype even though Kaka scored a brilliant winning goal. More entertaining was the match between the other teams in the group, Australia and Japan. The Socceroos came from a goal down to win with three late goals. On the group's final matchday Brazil rested some of their regulars and beat Zico's Japan convincingly 4-1. Australia managed to oust Croatia in a dramatic match in Stuttgart where English referee Poll famously by mistake gave three yellow cards to one player (Simunic). Guus Hiddink took South Korea to the semi-finals four years earlier, could he work his magic on Australia too?

        Group G was considered to be a cakewalk for France before the finals. Instead the 1998 champions failed to win any of their first two games. Zidane received his second booking against South Korea which forced him to miss the decisive third match against Togo. The fiasco of 2002 looked well possible to be repeated. Thankfully, Henry and Vieira made sure of qualification to the last sixteen with goals against the African debutants. Switzerland topped the group without conceding a goal, their 2-0 win against South Korea sealed the deal for them.

        In Group H, Spain looked winners all the way and they delivered on the field as well. The 4-0 opening win against Ukraine set the standards. Tunisia and Saudi Arabia disappointed in these finals although the 2-2 game between them in Munich was entertaining. Sami Al-Jaber, in his fourth World Cup for the Saudis, scored one of the goals there. Ukraine bounced back with two wins including the one against Tunisia settled by a Shevchenko penalty which may have been the most boring match of the World Cup. Both European teams progressed with ease from this group.

        The second round saw a number of good games. Hosts Germany brushed aside Sweden 2-0 with an impressive performance. Sweden missed a penalty by Larsson and had a player sent off at a stage when things could have turned. Still, the trio of Ballack, Klose and Podolski seemed to have an extra gear when needed.

        Argentina needed extra-time to beat Mexico in a game many thought would be one-sided in favour of the blue and white. Maxi Rodriguez scored perhaps the best goal of the tournament with a superb volley from long range in extra-time which sent Argentina to the quarterfinals.

        England beat Ecuador by the game's only goal from a Beckham free-kick. It was an uninspiring game from both teams. The South Americans could not produce any of the sparkle showed in the first two games in the first round and England advanced unimpressively.

        So too did Italy, but the Azzurri were a man short for almost half the match against Australia and used all their experience to solve the problem. After Grosso fell over cunningly in the penalty-box deep into injury-time, Totti converted the penalty and sent the Aussies home.

        The match between Portugal and the Netherlands contained no less than sixteen yellow and four red cards. Maniche scored the game winner midway through the first half in a match Russian referee Ivanov lost control over. The game was not nearly as bad as the total number of cards suggested.

        The Switzerland v Ukraine match was the only in the second round needing penalties. It was goalless and dull for 120 minutes. The Swiss failed to score a single goal in the shoot-out which sent Ukraine to the quarter-finals by 3-0. Poor Switzerland didn't concede a single goal in the tournament during play time and were still eliminated - a World Cup record in itself.

        Brazil met Africa's sole surviving representatives Ghana in Dortmund. It was a game where Ronaldo broke the all-time World Cup top-scorer record of Gerd Müller with his 15th goal. Two more goals followed from Adriano and Ze Roberto, but the result didn't give a correct picture of the way the game looked. Ghana had most of the play, but couldn't convert their chances and bowed out leaving a positive image of the Black Stars in their first World Cup.

        The final match in the second round was between France and Spain. Spain's young team failed to match an older French side as they grew stronger. Villa gave Spain the lead from the penalty spot, but Ribery equalized, Vieira gave France the lead before Zidane put the icing on the cake with a fine individual goal in stoppage time.

        Whereas the quarterfinal stage at Korea/Japan had five confederations represented, at this World Cup it was back to basics with Europe against South America's two giants. In Berlin, Germany met Argentina in the first match. It was a tight game with few chances, but early in the second half little Ayala popped up between giant German defenders and headed Argentina into the lead. Ten minutes from the end Klose equalized with his fifth goal of the tournament - which would earn him the Golden Boot. Minutes earlier, coach Pekerman took off playmaker Riquelme which hurt Argentina's game a lot. Germany ran out winners in the penalty shoot-out. Brawling occurred in the aftermath of the game with officials, players and trainers involved. For Argentina it was a bitter defeat. They had been the most entertaining team in the tournament.

        Italy beat Ukraine with a convincing scoreline of 3-0, but Lippi's men was put under pressure for some time during the game. Luca Toni got twice on the score-sheet as Italy booked their place in the last four.

        England once again collapsed in a penalty shoot-out and just like at Euro 2004 they did so to Portugal. Wayne Rooney was sent off after the hour and with Owen already injured there was little England could produce in attack a man short. Portugal advanced to the semi-finals.

        The last quarterfinal was a classic meeting between France and Brazil - combined winners of the past three World Cups. Zidane raised his game to a level not seen since his prime years. Henry scored the winner assisted by Zizou from a free-kick. Brazil could not find a reply and despite coming close in the dying minutes, the big favourites bowed out in the quarterfinal just like they did in the same fixture 20 years earlier in Mexico.

        The semi-final stage contained only European teams for the first time since 1982. Germany and Italy met in Dortmund for the first match. It was a cracking game which looked certain to go to penalties before Italian coach Lippi decided to gamble and use four forwards in the second half of extra time to avoid penalties. It paid off. Grosso scored a minute from time and Del Piero added a second in injury time to secure Italy a place in the Final.

        The second semi-final between France and Portugal didn't have the same quality. Zidane converted an early penalty and the experienced French team sat back and did nothing more than necessary after that. Portugal made one or two efforts to equalize, but it wasn't enough. France booked another place in the World Cup Final, their second in the past three tournaments.

        Germany won the bronze-medals following a 3-1 win over Portugal. It was a fine consolation for a team that had received a lot of criticism before the World Cup. The hosts being in the tournament until the final week definitely helped creating the wonderful atmosphere under which the 2006 Mundial was played.

        Italy and France met in the 18th World Cup Final in Berlin. It became just as dramatic and tight as most people had predicted. Zidane scored from the penalty spot with a clever chip, Materazzi equalized with a header shortly after. The game swung back and forth, but no further goals were scored. As the clock ticked away and penalties loomed the two goalscorers were involved in the most talked about incident of the 2006 World Cup. Zidane's outrageous headbutt assault on Materazzi in extra-time marked the end of his career. France had a good grip on the game until then, but with their captain off plus Henry and Vieira substituted Les Bleus had little more to offer in attack. Italy triumphed in the shoot-out 5-3. Trezeguet missed for the French and Grosso scored the winner for Italy. Cannavaro - who won his 100th cap in the Final - lifted the trophy knowing he had been the most outstanding defender in the World Cup.

        2006 brought back the old order in the World Cup. The top six countries on the all-time table all featured among the last eight in the tournament. Since 1982 when the World Cup was increased to 24 teams and thereby got more representation from the smaller regions, only five different teams have occupied the fourteen spots in the seven World Cup Final matches: Germany 4, Brazil 3, Italy 3, Argentina 2 and France 2.

        There were fewer surprising results compared to 2002. Whether that can be explained by European home advantage or extra rest before the tournament remains to be seen. With South Africa hosting in 2010 we should get some answers then.

        Italy's triumph was based on a rock solid defence lead by Cannavaro and the tournament's best goalkeeper Buffon. Pirlo was the creative deep lying midfielder who made sure Italy became unpredictable in their build-up. The goals came from all over the team not only from a sole striker. This was a typical team victory and it was well-deserved in the end. Having lost three World Cup penalty shoot-outs in the past, it was Italy's year now to turn the trend.



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