Monday June 18, 2012
Footie fever heats up
Sambal On The Side
By Brenda Benedict
It’s that time again when cars are festooned with national flags and footie memorabilia, while almost everybody is hoarse playing couch coaches.
SO the 2012 European Football Championship has begun, and Germany has so far cleared its first hurdle against Portugal and gone on to beat Holland.
That first German match was a hot topic among pundits. The general opinion was that the team (with the exception of a couple of players) seemed sluggish for most of the 90 minutes of play, until striker Mario Gomez managed that winning header.
Known amongst some non-Bayern Munich fans as Pomade (“hair grease”, borne out of his obsession with keeping his hair in place), Gomez was targeted for criticism as his goal was seen more as a stroke of luck than genius.
Ex-Germany midfielder Mehmet Scholl, who is also Bayern’s reserve team coach, criticised Gomez’s first-half display, saying he had “rarely seen him run less” and joked that he “feared he would get bed sores” from his lack of movement on the pitch.” Scholl got a drubbing for his harsh criticism, although some more objective editorials suggested that fans look beyond the invective and reflect instead on his reason for it.
My husband meanwhile was more succinct. “Ah well, it was still a good day. Holland lost.”
This is what often entertains me besides the matches themselves – the sideshows. One of the best-known and long-drawn out international football rivalries is between the Germans and die Hollander. One infamous encounter even made it to The Observer’s list of “The 10 Most Spectacular Dismissals.”
It was the incredible episode of spitting, ear twisting, foot stomping and more spitting by Holland’s Frank Rijkaard against Germany’s Rudi Voeller during the second round match of the 1990 World Cup in Italy, in which Germany eventually beat the Netherlands 2-1. Both were sent off with red cards and Rijkaard was promptly christened The Llama by an enraged German press.
Apparently, the two footballers have since buried the hatchet. Nevertheless, advertisements playing on both nations’ traditional soccer rivalry still abound.
Elsewhere, a coterie of clairvoyant creatures is once again hogging the headlines. All apparently hope to follow in the “tentacle-steps” of Paul the Octopus. The late cephalopod seer famously went down the annals of animal augury by correctly predicting the outcomes of eight straight matches during the 2010 World Cup.
Leading the pack in Germany is Yvonne the cow. In case you’re thinking, “She sounds familiar”, well she has made headlines once before. In fact, I even mentioned her in a column last year about animal rights in Germany. You see. Yvonne had kept the nation riveted last summer when she spent four months evading capture after having escaped from being sent to the slaughterhouse – a bovine Richard Kimble, if you will.
After much ballyhoo, she was then purchased by an animal rights group and literally put to pasture in an animal sanctuary. I guess with fewer troubles on her mind, Yvonne can now focus on the job she has at hand, which is to choose between two buckets of feed bearing different flags. Der Spiegel, however, opines that the odds are stacked against a repeat wonder.
“The probability of correctly predicting the results of eight straight games – without, presumably, the benefit of reading the sports pages – is a mere 0.39%.”
And this is just in Germany. Citta the Elephant (Poland), Funtik the Hog (Ukraine) and Nicholas (there’s that animal again!) the Llama (England) are just three among the many who are trying a hoof, trotter or toe at playing psychic this season.
Perhaps this makes for lighter, less rankling reading compared to the stories of football teams opting for luxurious digs while their countrymen back home deal with financial crises. Or the embarrassing stadium announcements asking fans to quit jeering opposing team players and the occasional violent skirmish outside the stadiums.
Or worse, the racial slurs that some teams and fans have apparently faced. Why can’t we just enjoy the tournament for what it is amidst some good-natured rivalry? After all, football is known as “the beautiful game”. Hopefully, future matches will be free of controversy and instead give fans value for money by demonstrating the very skills that propelled some of the players to global fame.
As for me, I’ve been awed so far by the performance of some of the supposed underdogs. But for the sake of marital harmony, my loyalties lie with Deutschland.
Brenda Benedict is a Malaysian living in Frankfurt. She believes part of the attraction of watching soccer games is the prospect of munching on potato crisps.