Angola 1 Iran 1 (WC ’06)


Leipzig Zentralstadion 04

Angola 1 Iran 1 (WC ’06, 21/06/2006)

With arguably the least inspiring fixture of the world cup being played in arguably the least inspiring venue – the only one without a host club team to give it a bit of an aura – in the poorest and least accessible of the world cup cities, it’s perhaps not surprising that Angola v Iran was the easiest match to get tickets for. Being the third group game of two teams, one of whom was already out, and the other very likely to be knocked out, demand wasn’t high.

Wanting to see as many games as I could, it was the sixth of the seven games I went for on my world cup trip. My hopes of a low-key game meaning hotel rooms would be cheap and plentiful was rather misguided though, and I ended up staying in a strange eight-bedroom place by a parade of shops off down the end of a tram route. One morning, alone at the breakfast table barring the hotel receptionist across the room, the unease of being stared at while eating was broken by him blurting out “So tell me….is it pronounced Stanley KUB-rick or KOOB-rick?” As opening lines of conversation go, it was certainly different. I can only imagine this being a burning question he’d had for years, so I told him the latter, but found it hard to shake of the imagine of him dressing as a droog in his spare time.

The city of Leipzig was less strange, but the city centre was rather small and it was hard to avoid feeling you’d seen more or less everything after an hour’s wander. Luckily it wasn’t too far away by train from Dresden, which was then (as now) rebuilding at a rapid pace. Once a baroque jewel of a city, it suffered horrendous damage, first from unnecessary widespread allied bombing at the end of WWII, and then from Russian architects recreating the city centre as a hideous boxy communist “modern utopia”. This was all being pulled down, and the old city reconstructed. A symbol of the old city, the Frauenkirche, was rebuilt with black old original bricks contrasting deliberately with the sandy-coloured new.

I also popped over to have a look at Dynamo Dresden’s stadium, with its angular floodlights leaning like giraffes over the shallow uncovered oval bowl that made up the rest of the stadium. Without knowing the fiery reputation of the home fans, it’d be easy to dismiss the stadium as being quite dull. Intense atmosphere of the place of not, it’s since been rebuilt entirely with the kind of less-than-fascinating one-tier-all-round design widely regarded a “boring” in England. At least it has a large terrace at one end though. If only some of our new builds were so lucky.

The stadium in Leipzig had also been rebuilt. Once a vast open bowl holding up to 100,000 people, it was completely unsuitable as a modern venue. A new stadium to hold 45000 (despite no tenant club) was to be built on the site instead. Such was the scale of the new place that the new stadium would have fitted entirely inside the old one. More surprising was that that’s exactly how they decided to build it. The banks of the old terracing all remain, more or less intact beyond some landscaping, and the new stadium is reached via walkways from halfway down the terraces.

Some stadiums can disappoint when you actually see them, but this was the opposite. Maybe the expectations were set low, but it felt a much better stadium than I thought it would. It was a lot taller and bigger overall for a start, like a stadium holding a good 15000 more, but you still felt close to the pitch.

The large lower tier, circling the pitch close to the touchlines, was uncharacteristically steep enough to offer a good view on its own. At either side, an additional steep tier of seats curved down each touchline, higher is the middle, following the contours of the old stadium. High-backed seats, like modern metallic versions of medieval chairs, added to a unique feel. A light roof covered all below, and the original terracing of the old stadium could be seen through the gaps at either end. Quite how much spectators would appreciate these gaps in the winter, a season which isn’t exactly mild in this part of Germany, is less clear, but on bright sunny days like this was, it was a venue to whet the appetite.

Sadly the appetite for the world cup had been dampened by the very likely exits of both teams playing today. Despite a good number around the city and in the ground, the word was that many Iranian fans had decided to go home rather than stick around. There were some gaps, and there did look more empty seats than the 38000 crowd would suggest, but there were still enough people in there wanting to enjoy the game, meaningless or not.

It wasn’t a terrible match by any stretch, but wasn’t one that would live too long in the memory – at least not mine. The game was fairly open, but neither team was really busting a gut to get the win, and it took an hour before the opening goal. Angolan sub Flavio took advantage of some absurdly generous defending, as if marking was an afterthought, to dink a crossed ball back over the keeper into a yawning net.

The Angolan fans were hugely outnumbered, but they were a goal up and wanted everyone to know. It was their first goal of the tournament, and a good win for them coupled with a heavy defeat for Mexico, would see them progress. Angola seemed to have the support of the locals, but with a lack of more goals either here or in the Portugal v Mexico match – Angola needed a further two goals to go through – tension wasn’t high outside the small Angolan corner of the stadium.

It was an Iranian corner – the playing kind – that ended their hopes. A good ball in was met by a routine header 15 yards out from centre-back Bakhtiarizadeh, and with no defender guarding the post, it crept in with 15 minutes left to seal Angola’s fate.

From there both teams seemed to settle for the draw, with honours even and some pride intact, and 38,000 fans could say “I was there”, even if it seems that most of the world didn’t want to be.

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