Germans party as World Cup kicks off

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> German soccer fans partied before their team kicked off the World Cup and then partied into Friday night after an inspired win over Costa Rica.

Updated: February 25, 2007 11:34 IST
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German soccer fans partied before their team kicked off the World Cup and then partied into Friday night after an inspired win over Costa Rica. "We will be world champions,'' sang flag-waving German fans following a 4-2 victory without injured star Michael Ballack. After weeks of preparation, intense worry over security and efforts to ensure visitors feel welcome, the victory raised hopes that the long anticipated tournament would bring Germany international praise. At one Munich beer garden, hundreds of fans packed long wooden benches under a canopy of chestnut trees. As the final whistle blew, the green of the leaves disappeared behind a sea of waving German flags. "That is a beautiful memory,'' sighed Torsten Hoentsch, gazing over the crowd. Euphoric mood The mood was equally euphoric at public events and private parties nationwide. In Berlin, more than 300,000 people watched on public big screens. More than 35,000 packed Munich's official viewing event at the Olympic Park, which two hours before kickoff was full. In Gelsenkirchen, spectators waiting for the day's second game between Poland and Ecuador watched on a large screen downtown. Polish fans, clad in red and blue, marched through downtown chanting "Polska, Polska'' or basked in the sun drinking beer. Polish fans realistic Despite Germany's win, fans here are realistic about their team's chances against the tournament's other 31 top soccer nations. Many say they'd be happy with a quarterfinal appearance. Others dream of a repeat of the 1954 "Miracle from Bern,'' when an underdog West German team catapulted a fledgling nation out of the shadows of World War II by beating Hungary for its first of three World Cup titles. With the Nazi shadow ever present, Germans have long shied from overt displays of patriotism. But more than 15 years after East and West Germany fused and 60 years since the war, such taboos seem to be melting away. Tight security Authorities weren't taking chances, 2,800 officers were on hand and Munich police reported making 67 arrests. Most were for what authorities described as "minor offenses'' such as pick pocketing, though two men were arrested for allegedly breaking another man's rib when they attacked him. As fans drank and sang, helicopters occasionally buzzed overhead. Near the stadium, clusters of ambulances were ready, just in case. At entrances police patted down spectators, even going through their wallets and confiscating bottles of water and video cameras. A recent spike in racially motivated attacks in Berlin has raised concerns that neo-Nazis could sabotage the tournament. Hours before the game, Munich police removed a World Cup banner with swastikas from a highway bridge.

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