In Germany, the game is of two halves!

"We want to show the world that the 2006 World Cup is in a different country to 1974 when West Germany were hosts." Beckenbauer said.

india Updated: May 13, 2006 15:18 IST

The past is another country, as the saying goes, and nowhere is that more true of Germany as it gears up to host next month's World Cup, 32 years after hosting it for the first time.

When the tournament last came to Germany in 1974 the country was brutally divided in two by the Cold War and the matches took place on the western side of a border bristling with military hardware.

West Germany meanwhile was still reeling from the Palestinian attacks on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, the hostage-taking raw in the minds of spectators at the 1974 final who sat just a few minutes' walk from where the tragedy unfolded.

When the German team run out in the futuristic new Munich stadium on June 9 to face Costa Rica in the tournament-opening match, the 2006 finals will begin in a reunited Germany, although one still struggling under the burden of sewing its two halves together.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, the first woman leader in Germany's history, will attend the match, signalling another sea change over the past three decades.

In 1974, the teenaged Merkel was studying physics at Leipzig University, behind the Iron Curtain.

Politics were impossible to avoid at the 1974 finals.

Communist East Germany secured a politically charged 1-0 victory over West Germany in the first phase, but both had already qualified for the next round.

The humiliating defeat had a profound effect on the West German team, prompting captain Franz Beckenbauer to hold a crisis meeting with his players.

It worked, as West Germany went on to win the tournament, overcoming the "total football" of Johann Cruyff's Dutch side to beat them 2-1 in the final.

Beckenbauer is an obvious common link between the two tournaments. The man who also went on to win the World Cup with Germany as coach in 1990 has been an outspoken head of the 2006 organising committee.

"Bringing back the tournament was probably my greatest moment," Beckenbauer said. "To bring the World Cup to your country and to organise it is a chance you only get once in your lifetime.

"We want to show the rest of the world that the 2006 World Cup is in a different country to 1974 when West Germany were hosts."

Germany will become only the fourth nation to host the World Cup finals twice when they organise this summer's finals, following in the footsteps of Mexico (1970, 1986), France (1938, 1998) and Italy (1934, 1990).

It is not only the political backdrop that differs greatly between the two tournaments.

In 1974 there were just 16 teams competing for football's ultimate prize compared to the 32 nations vying for the trophy this summer.

The tournament format has also changed dramatically with the 1974 finals consisting of two group phases in which the top team from each of the final groups met in the final.

That system was scrapped for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico and, in 2006, the 32 nations are divided into eight groups of four. The top two teams will advance into the last 16 stage.

There are also noticeable variations in the qualified nations at the 1974 finals from those in 2006.

Football giants England, France and Spain, all present at this summer's finals, were absent from the finals in West Germany.

However, Australia qualified for both the 1974 and 2006 finals— the only World Cups they have reached.

Beckenbauer lifted the World Cup in 1974 in the Olympic Stadium in Munich, but 32 years on the final will take place at Berlin's renovated Olympic Stadium, first built for the 1936 Olympics which took place under Hitler's gaze.

Eight cities that hosted games at the 1974 finals— Berlin, Frankfurt, Gelsenkirchen, Dortmund, Hannover, Hamburg, Stuttgart and Munich— are used again for the 2006 competition.

Cologne, Kaiserslautern, Nuremberg and Leipzig make up the 12 World Cup stadia. Duesseldorf, which hosted five matches in 1974, will not be used in 2006.

First Published: May 13, 2006 10:48 IST