They Come from the Land Down Under
When I applied for WC tickets back in February of 2005 the only team that had qualified was Germany. So I put in requests for tickets based on how close stadiums were to Brussels (there are 6 within a 5 hour drive). I managed to get tickets to only one game so I patiently waited to see what teams would play on June 12 in Kaiserslautern. When the FIFA gods determined that it would be Japan-Australia my emotions were ambivalent. No USA, Brazil, Argentina or any of the European powers but I was still going to the WC.
And it was unreal. I can't remotely put into words the atmosphere of the whole day. Fans of both teams (but mostly Australians) partied before and after the game. The whole center of K-Town is a gigantic WC zone with jumbotrons set-up to watch games, souvenir shops, band stages, restaurant boths etc. You couldn't walk five feet in any direction without hitting a beer or sausage stand. The best I can do is use lots of pictures to try and describe it.
Chants of Aussie, Aussie, Aussie were echoing through K-Town. Probably about 30,000 Australians were in K-Town and they were dressed up, drinking, singing and hanging out everywhere.
Beer and sausage were universal. Tremendous excitement and anticipation in the air. Bad guitar rock songs on full-volume. Inflatable kangaroos. Big game fever. Sunshine. Everyone dressed in green and yellow. Felt like a bizzarro version of a tailgate at Lambeau Field.
Most of the fans walked 15 minutes to the stadium where one could place a small wager on the game at John Stark and Luis Figo's German Betting Parlor along the way.
After going through some mild security measures, we still had to trek through the forest to the stadium. Fortunately, we had a few Aussies to accompany us.
Finally, made it to Fritz-Walter Stadium. Game was a sellout at 46,000 people. Thankfully our seats were in the shade as it was about 90 degrees and very humid. After experiencing the heat first-hand, I can understand why the players are complaining and the 2nd-half of some games have been low-key. It's brutal to kick-off at 3pm and play in that heat. Stadium was about 60% Aussie, 30% Japanese and 10% very interested neutrals.
Game was great. Many were surprised by the Japanese tactics ie diving and staying on the ground. Not exactly fan-friendly. Japan took a 1-0 lead on a disputed goal and Australia drove relentessly forward in the 2nd half. They were rewarded by scoring 3 goals in the last 6 minutes of the game. After 32 years in the wilderness, Australia had returned to the WC with a memorable comeback victory. They celebrated as only Aussies can; by kangaroo-juggling.
After the game we tried to hustle out of the stadium to watch the USA game. However, German efficiency was nowhere to be found as fans had to stand around in the blazing sun for almost 30 minutes before exiting the stadium grounds. Chants of "Let us out, let us out" made no difference.
Finally we made it to a fan center to watch the USA-Czech game. THE HORROR! USA played with no heart, which was shocking. Most people have read Coach Arena's public-ripping of the team and I won't pile on. Just as an American living in Europe we get to show our national pride on very few occasions ie only when our athletes do well in the sports Europeans care about. During the Tour de Lance. Bode Miller. An Olympics here and there. When a Williams sister surfaces and wins a major. But the WC dwarfs all this and it was depressing to play so poorly on the big stage.
We stuck around K-Town to cheer for Ghana in the late game. Italy proved too strong and now the USA has huge task ahead to qualify for the knockout stages. I will be at the USA-Italy game in K-Town on Saturday night. Hopefully the team will show up because the fans will for sure. More than 40,000 American live around K-Town because of the military bases there. It should be crazy fun.
We got back to Brussels around 2:30am. It was an incredible day. Like Spring Break, the Super Bowl and a min-Octoberfest all combined into one.
Now we need a USA victory on Saturday to really get things going.