Playground of the Gods

Franz Beckenbauer feels that they have done everything to make sure it will be a good tournament this year.

india Updated: Jun 09, 2006 12:30 IST

For every footballer, an international debut is something quite special. You have entered the illustrious circle of the best in the country. And it doesn't have to be a World Cup match.

You know that millions of people are watching, that when the national anthem is played the camera is showing every millimeter of your face. They can read on your lips whether you are singing the anthem properly or not. You know that 90 minutes later you could be a national hero, or forever someone who didn't make it.

Nevertheless a first international cannot be compared to a first game at a World Cup. You take the pitch with sweat-soaked hands and shaking knees. You know that not millions, but a billion are watching. And the worst thing is playing the opening match - as will be the case on June 9 between Germany and Costa Rica.

On one hand, I envy them their unique opportunity, for I never took part in a World Cup opener. On the other hand, as president of the World Cup organising committee, I feel sorry for the younger players. This will be nerve-wracking for them.

I also have some sympathies for the Costa Ricans, even though as outsiders they have far less to lose. They can show the whole world, "Look here, we can play football as well!"

The players from both sides know that fans around the world have been waiting four years for the tournament and will draw more conclusions from the first match than may be actually justified. All this will be going through the players' minds.

It is seldom, however, that uncapped players appear in openers. Most players have the experience of 20 internationals or more. And yet everything is different. Most don't even notice that the national anthems are being played because they are concentrating on the match itself. In their minds they are already playing the first passes.

It was completely different when I played my first World Cup match, now 40 years ago. The media presence was about 3 per cent of today's, a huge difference. In 1966 in England I was certainly nervous before my first game. But I was helped by teammates like Uwe Seeler, Willi Schulz and Karl-Heinz Schnellinger. These were old warhorses. "Lad, don't make yourself crazy, it just another game," they would say.

In this team I could do nothing wrong, all I had to do was lean on these experienced players. It was also easy because we beat Switzerland, not as strong as now, 5-0. I scored two goals - the third and the fourth. Suddenly I was known around the world for my solo runs up the field.

It was, above all, easy for me because I knew that the older, more experienced players carried the responsibility. Four years later, in 1970 in Mexico, I was much calmer.

At my third tournament, at home in 1974, I was far more tense because we, alongside Holland, were favourites and I was captain. By then, the media too were in far greater numbers. Every step we took was watched and the legendary night in which we negotiated our World Cup bonuses and I had to prevent our coach, Helmut Schoen, from leaving is still a popular topic.

This time I don't think I will be nervous before the opener. I will lean back and hopefully enjoy the match in Munich 00on June 9 - with the feeling that we have done everything to make sure it will be a good tournament.

First Published: Jun 09, 2006 12:30 IST