MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
The 2006 Soccer World Cup kicked off today in Munich. Germany beat Costa Rica in the opening game. For the next month, hundreds of millions of fans around the world will be focused on the tournament in Germany. Coming up, we'll hear from some of those who gathered to watch today in this country.
First, NPR's Rachel Martin reports from Munich.
RACHEL MARTIN reporting:
The much-anticipated opening day of the World Cup started out quietly, as both German and Costa Rican fans appealed to a higher power to support their respective teams. Religious officials from around Germany held a special church service at the Frauenkirche Cathedral in Munich's City Center to bless all the 32 World Cup teams and their supporters.
But many German fans at the ceremony expressed more than just faith in their team. Wearing a top hat with the red, black and yellow stripes of the German flag, Bernard Vilting(ph) said there was no need for prayer.
Mr. BERNARD VILTING (German soccer fan): (Speaking foreign language)
MARTIN: We didn't need to pray for a win, he said, because we know that Germany will win today anyway against Costa Rica. At Munich's Olympic Stadium, an overflow crowd of roughly 30,000 people packed themselves in front of a huge screen to watch the beginning of the tournament, the first game broadcast live from a few miles away at the Allianz Arena.
(Soundbite of music)
MARTIN: I'm standing on a hill overlooking masses and masses of flags from all over the place - Brazil, Germany, Togo, it looks like, Ivory Coast. It's just a mass of humanity and an incredible collection of soccer fans from all over the world.
(Soundbite of crowd singing)
MARTIN: The odds were in Germany's favor to win this match, but that didn't mean the Costa Rican fans, like James Perez and his friends, had to surrender their high hopes.
Everyone says that you're going to lose.
Mr. JAMES PEREZ (Costa Rican Soccer Fan): Yeah.
Unidentified Man (Costa Rican Soccer Fan): That's all right.
Mr. PEREZ: Not that they're letting things down. The pressure is on Germany. It's not on Costa Rica. I think we're going to make it. Maybe into first place.
MARTIN: It's that delirious loyalty, blind faith and sometimes unrealistic expectation that makes the World Cup the most popular sporting event in the world. It's what you do as a fan, and especially as an underdog like Costa Rica. The opening game didn't disappoint fans on either side, though. Germany gave an excellent opening performance in front of their home crowd, but Costa Rica did not give them an easy run and performed better than expected against the dominant home team.
At one point the Costa Ricans were running neck and neck with the Germans at 1 to 1. Then the Germans rebounded with another two goals to take the lead once more. But Costa Rica came back with another goal by Paolo Wanchope in the second half, as heard here on ESPN.
Unidentified Announcer: Here's Centino(ph). Pancho to his right. Pancho making a run. He gets it inside. The shot. It's into the back of the net. And Costa Rica has struck again for the second time today. They have cut the lead from three to two.
MARTIN: But just three minutes before the game's end, German midfielder Torsten Frings scored the final goal of the game, clinching the match for Germany. This is what it sounded like in a Munich bar when it was clear the home team had won the first game of the World Cup, four goals to two.
(Soundbite of applause)
MARTIN: There's a lot of pressure on the host country, not just to win their first game, but to win the tournament. Speaking before the match, Germany's head coach, Juergen Klinsmann, said it's a challenge that should be greeted as an opportunity.
Mr. JUERGEN KLINSMANN (Coach, German Soccer Team): A World Cup in your own country doesn't happen that soon anymore, so we would like to grab that opportunity. We would like to take advantage of playing at home. And then I think the whole country would be extremely happy and proud, but we just want to make sure that we show the people in our country that we give everything we have.
MARTIN: Germany's next game will take place against Poland on June 14th. German fans are hoping tonight's game is a good omen for the rest of the tournament.
Rachel Martin, NPR News, Munich.
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