We now have our tickets for the 3 first round matches in which the US national team will play at World Cup 2006 in Germany this summer. Woohoo!!
We leave for Europe near the end of May, two weeks before the games begin. Our current itinerary has us heading first to Vienna, next to Budapest, on to Bratislava, and then to Prague before meeting up with two of our friends in Berlin.
After a couple of days in Berlin, we travel to Duisburg for the first US match in Gelsenkirchen. The US will face the Czech Republic in that match. Currently, the Czech Republic is ranked number 2 in the world by FIFA and the US is ranked number 4. We’ve come a long way in the last ten years. FIFA rankings can be pretty suspect, but there is no doubt that in the last four or five years the US has become one of the world’s major soccer powers. Odds are very slim for the US winning the tournament, though. Given that the US ended up in the toughest group (the group of death) or possibly the second toughest group, it will be a very difficult challenge just to make it out of group play.
The US-Czech match should be one of the best matches of the first round. In addition, the stadium is absolutely gorgeous; one of the nicest in all of Europe. We watched a recorded Fox Soccer World special tonight on Gelsenkirchen and the Arena AufSchalke, the home stadium of Schalke 04. The roof over the field is retractable. Much more impressive, though, is the field. The grass field can be moved in and out of the stadium. In addition to allowing more even exposure of the grass to the sun between games, it allows the stadium to be used for other events without damaging the field.
Next, we go to Bruges and Ghent in Belgium for a few days. While the beer in Germany is quite good, the beer in Belgium is even better to my taste, not to mention the Flemish fries. I consumed a draft Maredsous 8 at a pub in Oakland with my dinner tonight as part of on going regimen to get myself in the right frame of mind for this trip.
Then we drift back to Heidelberg for the game in Kaiserslautern against Italy. Since I’ve read that 1/4 to 1/3 of the residents of K-Town are US Americans at a military base there, we’re hoping the US will have good support. Of course, there are a few tens of millions of Italians not that far away, too. Italy is ranked 14th by FIFA, but they are still the popular favorite in our group and are always a tough competitor at the World Cup final.
From there, we travel to Bamberg to stay with a former boss of my wife. He now teaches English Studies (I think) at Bayreuth University. From our base camp there we will travel to nearby Nuremberg to cheer for the Yanks as they take on Ghana. Even though Ghana is ranked only 50th, they are considered to be a very good squad, and possibly even the best of all the African teams.
After two days in Munich, we catch a train back to Frankfurt to fly home. Even though we are stopping for 3 days at a time in most cities, I’m sure it is going to feel like an extremely crazy, whirlwind pace. There will be so much partying going on over there at all times, I just hope we can sneak in a little sleep. I already feel tired just writing this.