/ 9 June 2006

Excited fans pack Munich for World Cup

Hours to go before the World Cup started on Friday, the streets of Munich were alive with exuberant fans singing, showing their colours and waiting for the whistle to blow as hosts Germany meet Costa Rica in the curtain-raiser.

A giant screen set up by German public television station ZDF in Munich’s central Marienplatz counted down the seconds to the 4pm GMT kick-off, while many fans were out early to soak up the atmosphere in the southern city.

Ulrich Pfeffer and his five friends, kitted out in German football jerseys, were convinced that the national team, nicknamed the ”Mannschaft”, would get off to a flying start by thrashing Costa Rica in the high-tech Munich stadium.

”Germany are going to win tonight. Our chances of making it at least to the semifinals are very good,” he said, before taking a big slug of beer and shouting ”Lukas, Lukas”.

That is 21-year-old striker Lukas Podolski, whose number 20 the boys were wearing on their white jerseys, and the hope of many fans as captain Michael Ballack was expected to sit out the opener with a calf injury.

It was just the start of an excitement-packed two weeks for twentysomething Costa Rican fans Danny and Jose, who plan to follow the ”Ticos” across Germany, win or lose tonight, to see them face Ecuador and Poland in their remaining first-round matches.

”We’re in Munich today [Friday], then we are going to Hamburg and after that it’s Hanover,” they explained in tandem, before predicting that the opening match would end in a disappointing 0-0 or 1-1 draw.

A souvenir shop on Marienplatz was doing a roaring trade in anything from keyrings and floral necklaces to caps in Germany’s colours.

Some fans went straight for the war-paint kits with which they can smear their faces red, yellow and black for the match.

Some Latin American fans had cheekily painted a likeness of Che Guevara onto the German flag.

The Costa Ricans could find some southern solidarity in the dozens of Brazilians, Mexicans and Ecuadoreans milling through the streets, including a smattering of women.

But they stopped in their tracks when they came across a small army of big blond men wearing Costa Rica’s red, white and blue t-shirts.

”Where are you from?” asked the Latins.

”From Austria,” came the response.

”Like the kangaroos,” one of the Costa Ricans said.

”No, that is Australia,” the Austrian laughed.

If fans from across the planet were out in force, the police kept a low profile.

The officers chatted and joked with the fans, in keeping with Germany’s pledge to prove during the month-long, 64-match extravaganza that it is a friendly nation keen to show the world its modern face.

With just 59 000 spectators able to attend the opening match, most fans in Munich would have to watch it on television — they will be in good company, as the expected global audience for the game was estimated at 1,5-billion people.

Such is the excitement that it has gripped even those who are not die-hard football fans. Some here said they were just coming along for the party.

”I don’t care about football but me and my friends and colleagues are going to watch on the big screen in the beer garden,” said Wolfgang Hubert, who was wearing a Costa Rica t-shirt over his ample stomach.

”If I have to support a team, I would rather support the other side,” he explained. — Sapa-AFP