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Saturday, June 10, 2006

Golden greats and golden goals in Munich


THE DAY REPLAYED: It was worth the long, long wait of 1,441 days. The 18th FIFA World Cup™ opened with a crescendo as Germany got their own party off in the grandest style possible with a 4-2 defeat of Costa Rica embroidered by two goals entirely fitting for such an illustrious occasion. Then Ecuador matched that two-goal victory by opening their campaign in Group A with an impressive display of their own to overcome Poland.

The futuristic FIFA World Cup Stadium Munich witnessed the most spectacular start to an inaugural fixture in the history of sport's quadriennal showpiece. The net billowed three times in the first 17 minutes, the first goal registered at six minutes to leave left-back Philipp Lahm as the second-fastest goalscorer in the FIFA World Cup's opening game.

Later, Torsten Frings managed to outdo his team-mate with a remarkable, swerving shot delivered from a distance of 25 metres. Both soared from foot to net like meteorites racing across the night sky and in this vast bowl of an arena, a galaxy of former stars on a distinguished guest list nodded their approval.

Moment of the Day
One hundred and seventy past winners of this Trophy were paraded in a colourful and moving opening ceremony that preceded the action on the field.

The 65,000 capacity crowd responded enthusiastically, especially to the sight of Germany’s champions from 1954, 1974 and 1990 emerging from the tunnel. All 22 from 1974 fell into line behind the 'Kaiser', Franz Beckenbauer, on the first occasion they had all gathered in one place since their FIFA World Cup triumph 32 years ago in the same city.

Brazil had 55 winners on show from their five winning teams while Sir Bobby Charlton flew the flag on behalf of England’s 1966 kings. Also enjoying the moment were Didier Deschamps, Marco Tardelli and Alcides Edgardo Ghiggia, who struck Uruguay’s memorable winner in the Maracana against Brazil in 1950.

After the greats came the came the greatest of all, Pele, carrying the coveted FIFA World Cup Trophy together with superstar model Claudia Schiffer. They then left the stage to the modern-day footballing heroes. Like Miroslav Klose.

Player of the Day
Miroslav Klose: two opportunist goals capped a memorable birthday.

The Polish-born striker continued a memorable domestic season with Werder Bremen first by restoring the lead for a Germany team missing Michael Ballack after Paulo Wanchope had found an instant equaliser to Lahm’s screamer. Then from Lahm’s cross he produced a firm header which Jose Porras parried but only as far as Klose who followed up for his second to establish a 3-1 cushion around the hour mark.

Klose had begun the 2002 FIFA World Cup with a three-goal card-marker, helping Germany to a 8-0 opening-day feast at Saudi Arabia’s expense. He went on to score five goals in the tournament as Germany finished runners-up but there have been many occasions in his career subsequently when he must have wondered if those highs existed only in his dreams. He clearly relishes the FIFA World Cup spotlight and why shouldn’t he succeed on this day? After all, it was his 28th birthday.

Wanchope will feel cursed that his own two-goal salvo on such an auspicious 90 minutes in the Bavarian capital was driven into the shadows of early evening. They were two carefully composed strikes, expertly guided away from Jens Lehmann. Those pessimistic German followers will read an unhappy portent into the sight of their number one being forced to twice retrieve the ball from his net.

Then it was the turn of Poland and Ecuador at the FIFA World Cup Stadium Gelsenkirchen. It was a tough act to follow and while the second match of this tournament didn’t possess the sparkle of the first, the South Americans won’t feel like apologising for that.

Ecuador were not supposed to travel well, their superb home record at Quito’s high altitude supposedly giving an unbalanced impression of the ability of Luis Suarez's team. Nevertheless goals in each half from Carlos Tenorio and Augustin Delgado handed them a comfortable lead that was made to look decidedly less comfortable in the latter stages as Poland twice rattled their opponents' woodwork.

The Poles have experienced some significant success on the soil of their close neighbours. The 1974 tournament in Germany was a milestone moment in their footballing history as they ended it in third place and there were hopes that the current team, who won eight of their ten qualifiers and lost only to England, home and away, could give a good account of themselves. It was not the start they would have wanted but coach Pawel Janas will be reminding them that there’s a long way to go yet.

Goal of the Day
Philipp Lahm: Germany 1-0

Six minutes into the FIFA World Cup and already a thrilling moment to remember. It wasn’t quite the quickest in the history of opening fixtures but it certainly packed a punch, Lahm throwing two Costa Rican defenders off balance as he came off the left flank onto his right foot before curving his shot high into the net. The party was up and running.


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