CHARLIE PRITCHARD recalls a 2006 thriller between the hosts Germany and Costa Rica
Germany versus Costa Rica was supposed to be a formality victory for the hosts, with thousands flocking to the Stadion München (now the Allianz Arena) on a stunning day in Bavaria. This would surely be a joyous occasion for the Germans, with a simple win against the group’s whipping boys forthcoming. Instead, the match became the highest scoring opening match in World Cup history.
Within five minutes Germany duly went one goal ahead. Philipp Lahm cut in from the left and whipped a truly wonderful right-footed effort from 25-yards out, striking the far post on its way in, beyond the reach of the desperate José Francisco Porras in Costa Rica’s goal. With Germany seamlessly cutting the Costa Rican defence apart in the first ten minutes, with typically precise passing and incisive movement, a rout was on the cards.
Despite embodying anonymity during the opening scenes of the tournament’s icebreaker, Manchester City legend Paulo Wanchope suddenly announced his arrival at the World Cup. To the dismay of the hosts, Wanchope entered the Bavarian stage without reading the script. Surely he could not pass up the opportunity to infuse some panic on what had been a glorious day for the Germans thus far in Munich?
It may have not been part of the plan, but Wanchope wanted to show what he could bring to the World Cup, seizing upon an improvised scooped through ball from Walter Centeno to slide his finish past Jens Lehmann after twelve minutes. The goal was Wanchope’s 44th in the red and blue colours of the Central Americans, and he wrote his name into Costa Rican folklore with what became one of the most famous moments in the nation’s footballing history.
However, order was restored shortly after by none other than all-time World Cup scorer Miroslav Klose. Germany captain Bernd Schneider galloped down the right flank, cutting the ball back to Bastian Schweinsteiger, who placed a deadly pass across the Costa Rican six-yard box, where Klose typically evaded his marker to slide in a simple finish. Little did the diminutive poacher and birthday boy – celebrating his 28th year – know that this goal would signify the mere quarter mark of his overall 16-goal haul at World Cups.
Germany coach Jurgen Klinsmann sent his team out in the second-half with a license to kill. The mission: put Costa Rica to the sword and give these fans what they want. The Klinsmann regime was not immensely popular going into the tournament, and the coach was intent on casting criticisms aside with a convincing second-half display.
Lahm enjoyed the freedom of the entire left flank to dash unchallenged to the Costa Rica by-line, floating a deep ball into Klose, who used all the might of his neck muscles to direct a header to the bottom right corner. A wonderful sprawling save from Porras denied Klose’s initial effort, only for the Werder Bremen marksman to stab in the rebound from four yards.
A collective sigh of relief reverberated around the Stadion München. With a 3-1 lead, there was now breathing room for the German side, as they continued to compensate for the absence of Michael Ballack in the midfield with an assured tempo at the start of the second-half.
Unfortunately for Klinsmann and his men, Walter Centeno’s desire to breach the German backline was ceaseless. The playmaker broke the lines once again, finding Wanchope in the 73rd minute with a clever chipped ball between the helpless German centre-backs Christoph Metzelder and Per Mertesacker. Lehmann stood motionless in the German penalty box, perplexed with the way in which his defenders had afforded Wanchope so much space.
Wanchope had now completely torn up the script for the 2006 opener, and with a charismatic gusto, sending the travelling Costa Rican party into a frenzy with his 45th international strike.
The Germans again had to pick themselves up from another scare. Without Ballack, Germany had to rely on Torsten Frings to fill the irrepressible void that the Bayern midfielder had left. Frings had a decent game, but much like his teammates, he was helpless to the swarming Costa Rican pressing game.
Nonetheless, the Germans won a free-kick, some 35 yards out from goal and at a seemingly harmless and awkward angle. Nonetheless, Schweinsteiger spotted Frings to his right in curiously open space, rolling a pass to his right, and Frings did the rest. The midfielder unleashed a mesmerizing right-footed thunderbolt that drifted far beyond the reach of the desperate and flailing Porras.
Ballack would have been proud of such a strike, and like the other 65,000 German fans in the arena, the Bayern maestro offered a standing ovation for Frings’ explosive match winner. The screamer was worthy of tying up any game of any occasion. The Klinsmann regime had started the host World Cup with a victory. The circling media vultures had flown away, for now.
In spite of the heroic Costa Rican effort, the ‘typical’ efficiency that we so often relate to German football, was, despite coming in flashes, at its attractive and merciless best in Munich on June 9, 2006.
The manner in which Philipp Lahm and Torsten Frings thumped their long-range efforts beyond the stranded reach of José Francisco Porras in each half demonstrated that even during the transition, when the abilities of the Germans was being questioned, the players could respond in theatrical style. Klinsmann’s side had eventually swept Costa Rica aside with stunning power.
Cases could be made for either Lahm or Frings’ stunning strikes in winning the ‘goal of the tournament’ award at the World Cup in 2006, yet they served a greater importance. These goals provided moments of splendour amidst a chaotic opener on that sunny day in Bavaria.
The game subverted the archetypal proficiency of the German game and re-emphasised how global flair can light up any fixture at a given World Cup tournament. Not only did Germany 4-2 Costa Rica provide me with my first vivid memories of World Cup football, but it served as a reminder to even the most seasoned football fans that these are the games that express why we love the sport.