Home team’s expectations grow after three impressive matches

Less than 24 hours later, Cologne had tucked away the yellow of Togo and pulled on the white shirt of the German national team as the city prepared to watch the host side take on Sweden in the second round of the tournament. Blasted by the local media as perhaps the least talented German side in recent history and coached by a man who incomprehensibly preferred to spend more time in California than on home soil, the one thing going for the national team was that expectations were low. However, after three impressive group matches, Germany suddenly expected a great deal from Juergen Klinsmann’s men. The three wins had given Cologne and the rest of the country a disposition to match the warmer-than-usual weather. The sun was truly shining on Germany. So, Cologne prepares itself for the 5 p.m. kickoff against the Swedes. The central shopping district is teeming with people rushing to buy extra flags, T-shirts, face paint or beer as others enjoy an iced coffee in the sunshine. Some eager fans begin taking their seats at bars and cafes that have wheeled out big television screens for customers to watch the game. Others queue to get into one of the officially organized fan zones which offer live music and an even bigger screen to watch the game on. One of these areas is located next to Cologne’s historic and mesmerizing cathedral in a wonderful juxtaposition of the old and new spirit of Germany. Construction of the cathedral began in the 12th century. Scaffolding around one of its spires suggests that the project is not yet finished. Business as usual As flag-waving youths and smiling pensioners make their way to their favored place to watch the match, normal life seems to go on, albeit in the margins. A couple is getting married in a church on one of the city’s busy central streets. There are not many guests to witness the event. No doubt in various parts of Cologne identical wedding invitations are nestled in trash cans as distant friends and relatives of the couple settle on a sofa rather than on a pew. A wander down one of the side streets of Cologne’s Old Town uncovers a cafe with a solitary customer riveted by the newspaper he is reading. On this of all days, how could this place not be full of expectant soccer fans? A closer inspection reveals that there is no television on the premises. Kickoff finally comes and the sun continues to beat down as if it has been given permission to shine on for an extra few hours. Within minutes a low rumbling can be heard sweeping through the city center and gathering in volume like a ripple forming into a giant wave which comes crashing down on the banks of the Rhine as a collective cry of joy is released when Germany scores its first goal. Further jubilation and disbelief follows minutes later when Germany doubles its lead. To make things even sweeter, FC Cologne striker Lukas Podolski scores both goals. Kolsch, the locally brewed top-fermented lager, flows faster than the blue-gray river. Germany and their fans see out a few tense moments before the game is over and a place in the quarterfinals is secured. The final whistle prompts a release of boundless joy that buries every cliche about conservative and expressionless Germans as thousands of people and cars spill onto the streets swirling flags and hooting horns. But this is a new Germany. This is a Germany where the grandson of a Greek taverna owner in the city’s suburbs cheers for the men in white. This is a Germany where a bare-chested black man can lead a crowd in celebration in the shadow of the spires of Cologne’s cathedral. This is a Germany where blond-haired youths can drape themselves in the national flag and not worry if they might be offending someone. There is a popular song in Cologne whose chorus runs «Cologne is a feeling.» The beauty of the feeling in the wake of Germany’s victory is that it is one of pure celebration. There is never a hint that this explosion of national pride is directed at someone else. As intoxicating as the victory is, there is no sense that someone might overstep the mark during their celebrations. Watching some 10,000 fans cross through the square in front of the cathedral, riot police only move in to detain one youth. But minutes later even he is smiling at his captors and sharing a joke with them. The sun finally decides to take leave of the party but the celebrations continue into the night. Celebrating fans can be heard singing a soccer song written by Englishmen to mark their country’s hosting of the European Championship in 1996. «Football’s coming home» runs the chorus. It may not have come home but soccer has found a fine resting place for the summer of 2006.

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