Tuesday, June 20, 2006

My adventure at Germany's World Cup

Having been lucky enough to get a ticket to the Swiss-Togo match (played yesterday), I quickly got my train tickets in order and hunted up my passport.

The day of the match I was up at 0430 to catch the early train to Bern, and then on to Dortmund, Germany. The train out of Bern was already full with fans--most of them in red.

Soon after crossing into Germany the border police came through examining the passports of the males on board. One of the police had a digital camera filled with pictures of Swiss hooligans (they exist). Either my age or the US passport next to me saved me from the horror of being profiled.

The train largely followed the Rhine river until Cologne where it headed north to Dortmund. Fans packed in at each stop along the way, until by Bonn it was standing room only. It was also raining pretty hard much of the way up, thankfully the rain had stopped once we arrived in Dortmund.

Swiss fans had taken over the area around the train station, chanting, singing and drinking fine German beer. All the way out to the stadium (known as the Magic Square or the Opera House), the Swiss and the few Togolese were in high spirits; the Togolese chanted "we're flying to Berlin" (a joke that they would make it to the championship match), while the Swiss countered with "Hopp Schwiiz", and "Schwiitzer Nati"

After picking up my ticket I made my way through security (surprisingly lax) and into the stadium. The place was sold out; the stands a sea of red with occasional small islands of yellow. After the opening ceremony (the only time I suspect I'll ever hear Togo's national anthem), the battle was underway.

The match was thrilling, though poorly played (the Swiss midfield and defense were often confused, while the Togolese were alternately hopeless and brilliant up front). The was no shortage of shots on goal, with the Swiss taking an early 1:0 lead. After halftime the Swiss played much better and scored again--from right in front of my seat!, with the match ending 2:0 (see this piece from the IHT on Togo's loss). Switzerland moves into the second round if they come away with no less than a tie against Korea, or anything other than a win by France against Togo.

The match was without doubt the loudest sporting event I've ever been to. Whistling to show displeasure is much louder than booing, although shouted comments to the referees are swallowed up. An aside: Swiss fans really need to work on their "wave" manuever; despite many tries it barely got going, and was poorly coordinated.

As soon as the match ended I raced for the subway and train station (passing a well stocked whore-house on the way). I caught my train with two minutes to spare. Several changes later I got home at 0100 this morning.

The trip took some 15 hours of train rides, and a slew of changes, but was worth every minute. The excitement of seeing a World Cup match--even between such relative small-fry--was tremendous. It was far and away the most stirring sporting event I've seen. I can recommend it for even the slightly interested fan.

Germany seems to be staging the best World Cup in history. In four years it will be South Africa's turn. If they do half as well as Germany they can count it a success.