Opening ceremonies are bizarre things at the best of times, and the one to mark the start of the Women’s World Cup on Sunday at the Olympiastadion was definitely no exception.
Between choreographed groups making arrows and numbers that wouldn’t look out of place in Pyongyang, or in East Berlin’s own former Stadion Der Weltjugend, there were people on Segways spinning around smugly, an Australian dancing with a dingo (no, she was waltzing with a dingo – they are called the “Matildas“, right – and the World Cup accepts all national quirks) and an introduction speech where the organiser of the tournament, Steffi Jones – a younger, better looking Franz Beckenbauer for the 21st Century – gets a better reception than the president of the country that had just introduced her.
All of this under the benevolent gaze of the browned, horny toad that is Sepp Blatter and his companion for the day, a woman who resembles a slightly more miserable version of Bagpuss by the hour, Angela Merkel. As a man whose jackal-esque moral grounding has lead him to another election victory I hope he gave the saggy old cloth cat some great tips on victory strategies.
But then the ball was rolling, so to speak, on a tournament that is already an unbridled success, and one that should continue to be so despite certain predictability about the results (so far). Germany played okay against Canada, but in the end was a shoddy piece of finishing in the first five minutes away from only drawing and the USA were much improved from their recent form against North Korea in Dresden. Sweden was solid, if unspectacular, against Columbia and Japan similarly so, in beating New Zealand. And as if to prove that this really was a World Cup, England was profligate against Mexico and by the end was lucky to be clinging on to a 1-1 draw. They were underwhelming at best, when for some reason I expected things to be different. It’s just like the real thing.
But Jones and her organising committee can be proud of the job that they’ve done so far. Fifteen million people watched Germany’s opening fixture and there is a genuine sense of excitement around when games are going on. The Sportsdesk went to watch it at the 11Freundinnen Quartier at Lido in Kreuzberg, but there wasn’t a seat to be had with well over an hour to go before the kick-off. We retired to the pub opposite which was quickly equally full and that was when the realisation kicked in that this could work. This women’s thing. Sure we’d all been saying it for a while, but I wonder how many journalists were sniggering behind their hands when Canada’s captain, Christine Sinclair, missed a glorious, gilt-edged opportunity in the first five minutes?
It is worth remembering that it is a different sport to the man’s game, and comparisons do neither any particular favour. Admittedly the cries of “Gomez“, which rang around the pub after Kerstin Garefrekes sitter had a recognisable ring. They were the anguished cries of those that remember Mario’s, the bouffanted boy wonder, misses in the European Championships three years ago. She had all the time in the world, an open, gaping, goal in front of her, but contrived somehow to spoon it over the bar.
But as Germany witnesses the crowning of a new hero in the excellent Celia Okoyino da Mbabi, are we witnessing the downwards spiral of Lira Bajramaj, the poster girl for the new generation of German women players. She only made it on to the pitch with 20 minutes to go in the Canada game, and there are questions going around about her attitude in the wake of her move to Frankfurt for the start of next season. When she came on she didn’t change much, especially when compared to the impact that Alexandra Popp made, hitting the bar with a gorgeous shot long range onto the bar as she struggled to hold her balance.
So it rolls on and on. Away from Berlin, but it’s going to be hard to avoid this tournament over the next fortnight and a bit, let’s just hope that Blatter isn’t around for too much more of it.