Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Blues Brothers...

Normally I would begin a story in the beginning. The best way to describe the USA vs Czech Republic match in Gelsenkirchen is with a picture that captured the moment after it ended. Sunil Gulati, US Soccer Federation President and I started out a quarter century ago running the youth selections of Connecticut and New York. As the day began we realized that we each had become the leading Americans at FIFA and in the United States. There is a lot of joy in that. After the game, we silently shared a melancholy case of the blues as a result of the performance of our team. The feeling will be with us for a long time and can only be erased by new efforts to achieve the positive results I believe can be ours.

In route to the game, we stopped at the Maritim Hotel in this lovely Westphalian city to drop off some tickets ordered by Former Federal Reserve Governor Alan Blinder, who today is the leading Princeton economics guru and a colleague of my dear friend, Dr. Ruth Westheimer. Alan was ready for the day wearing his Air Force One hat and dressed much more comfortably than me, perfectly attired for the weather and the game. As I arrived on the hotel's front veranda, he introduced me to former U.S. Treasury Secretary Michael Blumenthal, whose signature I recongized from all of those dollars that had gone through my hands during his tenure.

Mary Lynn, while I was chatting with Dr. Blinder, spotted two ceramic Soccer angels in a shop window in the hotel lobby. Having a reasonable collection of similar art from various countries, we waited for the storekeeper to get the packaging materials before moving on to the stadium. One was dressed in white, the other in blue. The trick is always how to get them home unbroken. With the way things went today, I am not too certain of their fate. It will probably mean that these two little guys will be hand carried from Berlin back to New York.

Prior to the match, I was introduced to the Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus. He followed the popular leader Vaclav Havel who served at their first President for 10 years until 2003, when Klaus took over. Coming to this group opener was also the Charge d' Affairs of the US Embassy in Berlin and his family and another large delegation of the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, Jiri Paroubek.

A pleasant surprise was a visit by the former Lord Mayor of Leipzig, who is now the Federal Minister for Transport, Building and Urban Development of Germany. Wolfgang Tiefensee was the extraordinarily popular of Leipzig Mayor and a key figure in the 1989 protests which led to the reunification of Germany. It was very nice to see him again. As the game began, we could see the three governments seated in a row; all very absorbed by the intensity of the match.

CONCACAF Vice President Alan Rothenberg and Shun-ichiro Okano with their experiences now in the hands of Franz Beckenbauer, each had headed a FIFA World Cup. Alan did his in the USA in 1994 and Shun-ichiro in Japan 4 years ago. They continue to help FIFA in the organization.

Franz is always agreeable as a fan asks to have her jersey signed by her hero. Whereever you go in Germany, Franz' true popularity is a real commodity and greatly deserved based on his enormous ability complimented by his humility. The FIFA 2006 World Cup Germany has kicked off to a great start. There is a no nonsense attitude by all the teams. They know why they are here.

Platini reminds me that he had suffered the humility of unsuccessful matches and that there are better days ahead. I will just have to wait and hope that the game with Italy produces a better result on Saturday. It is time to leave the stadium and head back to Cologne with my friend George Tarantini, Bobby Abramowitz and his wife together Mary Lynn and our driver Holger Thiessen. If you read spanish, you can get some insight into the World Cup with stories Abramowitz is posting at Futbol Mundial. Nonetheless, I know the 1 1/2 hour ride back to Cologne will be an unusually long and quiet one. I am sure the radio will be playing the Blues.

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