The last time Wales hosted Germany it was only a friendly match and Mark Hughes was the coach. I don't remember the score but 75,000 fans paid to watch.
The Red Dragons have had a torrid time recently, under coach John Tossack, who had quit the job once before. With the international retirement of Ryan Giggs, and captain Craig Bellamy, the only 'name' left on the squad looking after his sick newborn daughter, Wales faced a near full strength German team. To show the apathy of the Welsh fans to this, a vital EURO 2008 qualifier, only 25,000 paid to enter, and the Millenium Stadium was two-thirds empty.
I had taken the slow train from Manchester Piccadilly, past lots of soccer stadiums on the way down to South Wales. Within a minute you can see City of Manchester Stadium to your left, home of the Light Blues, who are making more waves than the Red Devils right now. Ten minutes and the train stops at Stockport, next to Edgeley Park, where Stockport County were due to host Shrewsbury Town in a few hours. Within 30 minutes its Crewe, One of Britain's busiest train hubs, next to Alexandra Stadium, home of Crewe Alexandra, 'the Railwaymen' also at home this day to Huddersfield Town.
Another half an hour and just south of Shrewsbury, right next to the train tracks is the New Meadow, a brand new stadium when city centre Gay Meadow closed down in May after 100 years.. Next is Hereford, the home of the SAS -the crack British secret 'Delta force' and a few yards from Edgar Street, back in the Football League once again and home to Macclesfield Town.
However, the entrance to Cardiff Central is a one of a kind view for soccer fans. No stadium is easier to get to than Millenium Stadium, about 200 yds away and towering over the city. On one side is the River Taff, where you can get a boat for the kilometer ride to Cardiff Bay, and on one side is the centuries old Cardiff Castle, and the fourth side a a maze of narrow streets full of pubs selling the local brew Brains Beer, Welsh food, and trendy shops. To the immediate north and attached to the stadium is Cardiff Arms Park, a smaller venue for the Cardiff Blues rugby club. The local pro team Cardiff City play in The Championship at Ninian Park on the outskirts, and is the only team ever to take the F.A. Cup out of England when they won the final at Wembley in 1927. For the last five years, until 2007, all FA Cup Finals, League Cup Finals, Charity Shields and Football League play-offs were played in Cardiff at the Millenium Stadium, while the new Wembley was being built.
The city centre has some magnificent white Portland stone buildings, built in the 19th Century and later with revenues from 'Welsh Gold' -coal, from the many mines in the Welsh valleys, and with money from Lord Bute, arguably the richest man in the world at the time. Cardiff Bay has been regenerated with cafes, museums, hotels and sailing ships. The Millenium Stadium is smaller than Wembley put has a retractable roof, so no problem with the rain. No need for pricey stadium food, with whats available a few yards away in the streets outside. It will host soccer matches in 2012 as part of the London Olympics.
Rugby is king in this part of the Principality, and in a few Days the Millenium will be full for Wales hosting Australia in the current Rugby World Cup, even though the majority of matches including the Opening match and the finals are in France. Germany had a star studded line-up and captain Miraslav Klose opened the scoring in the 5th minute and also scorer the other goal in a 2-0 victory. The Germans aren't Brazil. but they play clinical soccer, doing the simple things well, VERY well. There was only going to be one winner, and star of the show was Bastian Schweinsteiger the Bavarian blonde, who was prince of the midfield.
What a contrast in coaches. the pixie-like schwartzwalder beatle, Joaquim Low was a bundle of energy in his form fitting dark suit and winklepicker shoes, in contrast to the track suited giant Tosh,with very large white trainers on his feet, who has failed to ignite passion in either the public or the squad.
Before the match I was in the bar of the Holiday Inn, just outside the stadium, and facing Cardiff Castle. Quite a mix. There was a modelling agency having try-outs so some wafer thin ladies were there, plus the Welsh FA council in their blazers and a troupe of DFB ( Deutscher Fussball Bund) Ordners-security cops to keep an eye out for visiting fan trouble. On the 2 giant screens was Australia demolishing Japan 91-3 at the Rugby World Cup. The bar and the Millenium will be full of rugby fans next Saturday. The fans will have passion but if the players don't they will suffer the same fate as their soccer playing brothers.