World Cup First and Second XI

As usual, there is a temptation to scribble out what is seen to be the team of the tournament. Of course, the temptation is to load up with attack-minded players, leading to an unbalanced team, but this is Fantasy Football, and flair always wins out over workmanship.
Of course, apart from this, the temptation is to come up with a second XI, mainly of players who either didn't see that much game time, or were showing flashes of brilliance.


posted on Monday, July 10, 2006 - permalink
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I was at the World Cup Final

When I was young, I remember that I had my eye set on a particular toy for my birthday. It was James Bond's Aston Martin DB5 as made by Corgi, 1:35 scale model, complete with working rear shield deflector, pop-out machine guns and ejector seat. It was a whopping RM20, and the only way I could really get it was to wait for my birthday. And when my birthday came? Yup, you guessed it. No Aston Martin. Instead, I got a Batmobile with grappling hook and funny siren noisemaker (I think). Nice, but not the same. Sometimes you build up your expectations so much that when you get to the event, it's a bit of a let down.

Going to the World Cup Final was not like that. At all. In case anyone misunderstands me, have no doubt that I thought it was great.

Really great.

Okay, it wasn't perfect. Zidane shouldn't have been so stupid. The Italians should have remembered to keep passing to those guys in blue (BLUE DAMNIT, BLUE!!!). Penalties are no way to settle a World Cup. (My suggestion? Let the managers go head-to-head in an extreme-style deathmatch in the centre circle. It would raise the ratings.)

But otherwise, it was great. I got the ticket through an extremely fortunate set of circumstances, because a friend of my father's was in Germany, and one of the people in the group had to go back early. Actually, there's a little more than that, but I'll leave the whole story to another day.

So (where was I?), a free ticket to watch the World Cup Final. The bus and train trip to the stadium was largely uneventful, but the heart began to beat faster when I saw the Olympic rings at the front entrance.

True, I had been outside the stadium before, but I had never actually stepped into it. Security laughed at Ed (as they always do), and a few moments later, we were in the land of overpriced drinks and walking flag-people.

It's hard to explain what it's like. It feels great, yes. But you must understand that this is something I've wanted to do since I was so young.

In 1982, when Dino Zoff lifted the World Cup, I never imagined that I would even be in the same country as one where it was being held. In 1994, I was in the USA, but harsh distances and a student's budget made it difficult to be part of the game. In 2006, I fulfilled my dream to actually tour a country during the World Cup fever.

To say that watching the final live was like icing on the cake would be like saying that a footballer winning the World Cup is a nice addition to the mantelpiece. It's an understatement of the nth degree. Watching the World Cup Final is something I wasn't even sure I would ever do in my lifetime. And I was here.

If I thought they would let me in with my Alphawriter, I would have been typing this right there, right then. It was amazing.

If I was disappointed with anything, it was the atmosphere. I've been in Bukit Jalil stadium during the Commonwealth games, and that feeling still hasn't been beaten. Yes, there was fervour, but it wasn't as overwhelming as I think it could have been. Perhaps if Germany was in the final, it would have been a different matter.

There has been some talk about World Cup tickets not going to the right people, and I can kind of understand that, but a quick look around in our area (labelled as Category 1, no less), and I maybe saw three who weren't really fans.

Well, the ticket did say Category 1. But I went to another game in Leipzig, and I can swear that in that game, we had very similar seats to the ones we got in the final, and those were Category 2. Perhaps the virtue of it being a final pushed up the value.

They did try to split the crowd into the Italian and French sections, with a large crowd of neutrals in between. I estimate maybe 10% were occupied by uniform swathes, but there was no denying that there were Italian fans peppered in our otherwise Bleu area.

Incidentally, you aren't allowed to brings of any sort into the stadium. It's not just the containers they're worried about, but also what you bring in it. However, this also just happens to be extremely fortunate for all those drink sellers (EUR3.50 plus EUR1 deposit) working within the stadium.

(to be continued...)

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posted on Sunday, July 09, 2006 - permalink
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I'm (probably) going to the World Cup Final

As of this moment, it looks like I will be going to the World Cup Final tonight.


Darn. Now I've probably jinxed it.

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posted on Sunday, July 09, 2006 - permalink
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15 minutes in Salzburg

Brechtesgaden is only an hour from Salzburg, and since I wasn't one hundred percent sure about how long the Konigsee boat ride would last, I opted to see Salzburg instead.

From what I saw, Salzburg is pretty. Very pretty. It makes the most of the fact that Mozart was born there, and so you'd think it was called Mozartburg instead, but otherwise it seems a very nice place to spend a day.

Shame I only had fifteen minutes.

Okay, I exaggerate. After all, isn't that a feature of travel writing? That the mundane becomes interesting?

But it took me half an hour or so to walk to where my self-guided walking tour was meant to begin from, and all the way there, I was staring at the dark clouds gathering in the distant-but-rapidly-becoming-not-so-distant sky.

It hasn't rained much on this trip. But when it has, it's done so in force. I hadn't got more than a hundred meters into my walking tour, admiring the front of the Residenz, when it started raining. Really gentle at first, but then getting those big fat raindrops that everyone in Malaysia knows and loves.

I skipped the walking tour and headed for the tram stop. By that time, the water was coming down in sheets, and every inch of cover was taken. The bus eventually came, everybody rushed on board.

I tried to follow the progress of the bus with my map, but I couldn't make out the street signs through the running water.

At one point, the tram had to dip into six inches of water. Everybody on board was impressed we got through safely.

Anyway, that was Salzburg. Nice, but a little wet.


posted on Thursday, July 06, 2006 - permalink
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The Eagle's Nest

The guide books call it the Eagle's nest, and the local name is Kehlsteinhaus but I call it abso-blooming-lutly beautiful. I am typing this while sitting on a bench perched precariously at the edge of a one thousand plus meter drop, overlooking the Konigsee and I have just rediscovered my innate sense of vertigo.

Actually, I lie slightly, because that feeling had already revealed itself on the bus journey up the mountain. Imagine, a bus chugging up a single lane road with only a foot of grass separating the tyres and a sheer drop. Keep focussing on the distant view, ignore what you see directly below you- ohmyfrickingodthatdoesn'tlooksafe.

But is it worth the view from the top? Absobloominlutely yes.

Getting there, though, is another matter. The closest town to the Eagle's nest is Brechtesgaden.

If you come by train from Munich, you'll have to change once. Before you change, just want to say, the scenery on the right-hand side is better. I had to scramble across and curse silently when beautiful alpine ranges were replaced by blurry trees.

From the train station, go out, and turn right to the main bus stop. You can drop by the office before hand and chat about what options there are to get to the Eagle's Nest, but they all boil down to the same thing: Take the 838 or the 849 to a place called Dokumentation (ours was labelled 838/849 - two in one if you like).

The bus will climb up a steep hill (nice views on the left hand side). If you get giddy easily, close your eyes and miss the scenery.

You will eventually reach Dokumentation. It's called that because there is a Nazi Documentation Centre there (which is also a museum), which is pretty good, by the way. If you're interested in that, EUR3 to enter, and if you sprechen kein Deutsch, get the audioguide because everything is in German.

But we're not here for that! We're here for the views. If the bus driver was kind (like ours), you are pointed towards the ticket office.

Now, you don't have to take the bus if you don't want to. It's a two-hour hike to the top (it seems). And lots of people do that. They're the ones with the climbing sticks and the red faces.

If you take the bus (wimp!), it's another fifteen minutes or so up some of the steepest, winding, narrow but ohmybloominggod beautiful roads. Don't be put off by the fact that it starts off with a lot of pine trees and not much else. Trust me, it gets better.

There is a helpful commentary on the bus on the way up. In four languages. I think. I lost count after German, English and French. It explains that it was a fiftieth birthday present from the Nazi party to Adolph Hitler (What _do_ you get a militirastic dictator who already has his eyes set on Europe?).

Because you have to have the return time printed on your bus ticket, the announcement will also suggest that you spend two hours at the Eagle's Nest. Now, all there is up there is a beautiful view, a restaurant and souvenir shops, so this to me is a rather crude attempt to make sure that a captive audience has time to get hungry and bored. Cynical me.

Anyway, I think an hour should be enough. The braver of you can spend the time teetering on rock edges, taking in the view, or just sitting on benches, a little bit off the edge, which is the way some of us like living our life.

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posted on Thursday, July 06, 2006 - permalink
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I have a theory why some people find other people immediately attractive. It's because these people remind them of somebody else in their life that made them feel good. Chemistry between two people is when this reminder is mutual. You see something that you recognise and feel comfortable about, so you find it attractive. It could be anything that triggers this subcooncious memory. The shape of their nose, the way they laugh, the tone of their voice.

And sometimes, it's the football jersey they wear.

I've seen this happen so many times in this World Cup. Two groups of people who in every other way are complete strangers with one another, will immmediately greet each other like long lost friends and hug and laugh and party, simply due to the fact that they're wearing the same football jersey.

Organised sports is possibly the last bastion of tribalism in the connected world today. Most explainations of it involve some sense of shared cultures and habits, or because of a need of belonging. I want to propose that it's because we are most comfortable with what we are familiar with.

By slipping on a Brazillian shirt, I can immediately be invited to be one of the mass, samba-partying crowd. Of course, I can't speak portugese or sing along with their songs, but that is beside the point.

This also explains why I like to follow England. I recognise the players, I know what they are like, and I know how they play.

But the sense familiarity can also have negative connatations. In Germany, because of the recent past, Nationalism is a dirty word. You cannot escape the fact that Germany tries is best to distance itself from their Nazi history. And the Nazis were fairly heavy into their Nationalist agenda.

Germany isn't so much embarrassed about their past, as they are resolute in saying who they are now is not the same as who they once were.

So, it is unsurprising when a news bulletin questions whether the nationalistic fervour that has enveloped Germany during the World Cup is a bad thing. Some still remember what it was like to be so excited at a nation's achievements, and how badly that turned out.

Nevertheless, it looks like the man on the street is winning out, as the passion for the national German team (after only two World Cup games, mind you) is rapidly outstripping their caution. Not an hour passes without there being some sort of report on the national team. No subject is trivial enough - even Klinnsman's brother who runs a bakery is given the full treatment.

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posted on Tuesday, July 04, 2006 - permalink
billy joel concert? did u go?????? i want i want!! :)
it seems they don't see the difference between patriotic pride and nationalism? not that i would know, i was not there to see it first hand :P

(the initial part of your post, sounds like transference to me)
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Synonymous with the Nazi political rallies of the 1930's, Nuremburg is a pretty Bavarian town saddled with the recent history. Of course, tourists now flock here because of its disreputable past, but even if you just spend all your time in the old town, it's time well spent indeed.

Shoot me now, I'm beginning to sound like a tourist brochure.

One thing you shouldn't do when you reach the main railway station is to walk out the wrong exit. One exit leads to the beautiful old town and all the charm that Nuremburg has to offer. The other leads to it's shopping district, great for supermarkets and groceries, not so hot on the charm.

However, to get to the Nazi sites, you have to jump on another train or a tram. The signs there are not particularly good, but the locals are friendly.

The particular local who helped us happened to have ponytails, makeup and a beard, but his advice was good, even if his application of rouge wasn't.

The best place to start your tour of Nuremburg Nazi sights is the documentation center. It gives a good overview of how the Nazis used Nuremburg to rally and consolidate support. Basically, they started by using Nuremburg as a meeting point, and then decided to build large, grandiose structures to impress and project their influence. All the sights left in Nuremburg are relics of that effort.

Of all the structures, only the Congress Hall and the Zeppelin Field clearly remain. The Congress Hall is now the Nazi Documentation Centre, a museum about the Nazis, with special attention to their activities in Nuremburg. Entrance comes with an audioguide, and is very well presented. The content itself is skewed unsurprisingly to the "We're ashamed of our past, he was a bad man" tune that the rest of Germany currently displays. It would have been interesting to know more of why hundreds of thousands were willing to be led by this man and his policies. The explaination given at the Documentation Centre was that he cultivated a cult around himself, who worshipped him as more than just a leader, and more as a superhuman.

But then, that's not so surprising in itself. Many world leaders take effort to project an image of themselves removed from reality. It's not unusual to reach a point where criticism of them becomes unthinkable, or is rebuked in the strongest terms.

I guess we should remember that even Prime Ministers are human and are prone to mistakes occasionally. The unfortunate thing is that their miistakes usually drag the whole country down with them.

Anyway... where was I? Yes, Hitler, very persuasive fellow he was. Managed to get hundreds of thousands of fellow Nazi party members to come to Nuremburg (then population 400,000), overrun the city, and then gather together in mass religious-like ceremonies.

Much like the World Cup, really.

After spending time at the Documentation Centre, you can now walk around the lake and see the old sites.

One of the things that really stand out are the GrossStrasse, a 2km 100m wide stretch of road, especially designed for parades. I can't think of any other type of road, just designed to accommodate such a thing, can you...?

The other sight is the Zeppelin Field, which is the site most associated with the Nazi Rallies. It's now slightly overgrown, but the size is still impressive, more than the World Cup stadium next to it.

After all that, that's all there is about Nuremburg. Nice town, shame about the Nazis.

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posted on Monday, July 03, 2006 - permalink
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Billy Joel Rocks in Frankfurt, and I Roll With Him

Billy Joel was born in 1949 and has been making hit records since the 70's. I first heard Uptown Girl (Note: NOT the Weststlife version, okay?), and then the album, An Innocent Man, and then Piano Man, The Nylon Curtain and etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. In 1992 (or thereabouts) he dropped by my University to give a question, answer and song session. I was there, and I thought he rocked. Fourteen years later, twenty years after I heard him sing about Christine Brinkley, I finally catch him live, in concert.

And he still rocks.

Indeed, Billy Joel is in Germany, performing in Hamburg and Frankfurt (I don't know why not Berlin), and if the response in the other concerts are like what I saw tonight, there aren't enough dates to cover demand.

The venue for tonight's gig was the Festhalle. Frankfurt is renowned for being the trade fair capital of Germany, and the Festhalle is one of the locations used for them. I estimate that it might be able to seat a few thousand, and with the standing area iin front of the stage packed forty rows deep, there must have more than five or six thousand people attending. True, nothing compared to the fifty thousand that go to a World Cup game, and yet still quite impressive for a singer who doesn't have a new album to promote.

Anyway, it was Billy all the way, punctuated by one song by a roadie (Highway to Hell with Billy Joel on guitars, if you're interested). The energy the man has at 57 is phenomenal.

He started off with Angry Young Man, which has a rocking intro. It was then that I noticed that because I had arrived a little late (only half an hour before the concert began), there were a lot of people between me and the stage. All I could see was Billy's balding head. I definitely couldn't see his hands playing the piano.

I've got to explain something here. I'm a big fan of singer/songwriters who play the piano. Not sure why. Billy Joel. Ben Folds Five. Diana Krall. Jamie Cullum. Jerry Lee Lewis. Bill Withers. (Strangely enough, not so much Elton John. And definitely not Richard Clayderman.)

And every time I go watch a piano concert, I like to sit where I can see the pianist's hands playing. Just to watch, you understand. Those who can't really play, watch and admire.

The added bonus with Billy Joel is that I started to really play the piano because of him. I mean, I'd been playing organ for several years (you know, those Technics number-your-fingers courses), but I started experimenting, and trying different styles, trying variations of melodies. Not that it did me that much good, but I love playing because of him.

So, to finally see him live, and then just see his bobbing head is, frankly, a little galling.

But the music rocks.

I can't keep track of the full song list, but highlights included: An Innocent Man, with finger clicking, a segue from Stand By Me, and Billy hitting all the high notes; It's Still Rock and Roll to Me done Elvis-style; Big Shot, replete with mike stand twirling; an excellent rendition of Keeping the Faith; Pressure, complete with strobe lights and intensity; and, of course, Piano Man, where he let the audience sing the chorus.

And he rocked.

For a guy who's fifty seven, he's still pumping strong. Very impressive. His face was getting more red as the concert went on, but everyone's was - the hall was hot as heck, even I was wilting a little.

In the end, it was about two and a bit hours of music, and of course I felt cheated. There were so many he didn't get to cover: Just the Way You Are, The Stranger, Baby Grand, The Longest Time, Vienna...

But it's okay. He still rocked.

Other songs he performed: The Entertainer, Zanzibar, Don't Ask Me Why, Billy The Kid, Matter of Trust, Only the Good Die Young, Movin' Out, Leningrad, Allentown, My Life, Scenes From An Italian Restaurant, She's Always a Woman, Honesty, New York State of Mind.

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posted on Sunday, July 02, 2006 - permalink
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