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Flag flies for football
- Festival, not extremist politics, aflutter

The flags are flying in Germany' and that is unusual. As the first round of group matches draws to a close, anticipation is already building for the next phase.

That meant the hosts back in action on behalf of a country which appears to have found a way in which to celebrate its identity without calling up the spectral images of you-know-what and you-know-who. Intriguingly, England is also living through a similar flag-waving revolution.

In England’s case, the emergence of the Red Cross of St George was a reaction to the increasing self-assertion of Scotland and Wales following local government devolution.

As for Germany, the explosion of black-red-gold tricolour on cars, in shop windows and outside homes, even in face-paint on fans’ faces, has been inspired by the manner in which the local “Gastarbeiter” Turkish community enjoyed their own national team’s semi-final achievement at the 2002 World Cup.

In both England and Germany, the national flag has not been raised as a symbol of extremist politics but as a positive symbol within the world’s greatest football festival.

How far forward towards July 9 those flags will continue to be waved is, naturally, another matter. Fans can wave flags but they cannot wave magic wands over their teams.

Germany possesses host momentum but a questionable defence while England has the talismanic Wayne Rooney fit to train but not yet play and has been caught surprisingly unawares by the pressure-cooker heat at pitch level.

Holland players are already squabbling in time-honoured style. Manager Marco Van Basten has attempted to weed out all the grumpy egotists who spoiled past campaigns. But that is easier said than done.

Arsenal’s Robin Van Persie was not impressed by Arjen Robben’s attempt to beat Serbia and Montenegro single-handed on Sunday and said so. Old, crossed-word habits die hard.

French players also appear ill at ease with each other. The goalless draw with Switzerland was a depressing start for Les Bleus and their fans’ unease will have been exacerbated by the sight of experienced players such as Liliam Thuram, Zinedine Zidane and William Gallas arguing among themselves during the game.

The sad, salient fact is that the last player to score a goal for France was midfielder Manu Petit ' and that was all the way back in the dying minutes of its World Cup final triumph over Brazil in July 1998. It played three awful matches without scoring in 2002 and tension behind the scenes is clearly hindering its revival efforts here in Germany.

Perversely, Italy threw off the shadow cast by a massive match-fixing scandal back home to open up with an un-Italian-like victory over Ghana.

The Azzurri never usually look as bright and enervated in the first match and the entertaining opening phase has owed much to Fifa’s enforcement of a four-week break between the end of the domestic leagues of participating nations and the start of the World Cup.

That augurs well for the better teams whose finest players should be in excellent condition, both mentally and physically.

Most talented of all is Brazil even if it began quietly with a 1-0 win over Croatia in Berlin. Few, however, would bet against the reigning champions returning to this same redeveloped Olympic Stadium on July 9 in pursuit of a record-extending sixth success.

Indeed, it is only when Brazil has marked its entry into the World Cup that the event can truly be considered to be under way. Its players bring a regal touch to the proceedings out on the pitch while the torcida (groups of fans) surround their favourites with colour, noise and a joyful vibrancy which provide the World Cup with a high definition all its own.

Scantily clad Brazilian beauties, apparently straight from Rio de Janeiro’s carnival, danced happily into the night in a corner of the old parade ground behind the stadium which has been invaded by the hospitality tents and the television broadcast trucks.

The Brazilian who impressed the most was the goal-scorer, Kaka. Ahead of him Ronaldo was sluggish and Adriano lacklustre but that was Tuesday. No one doubts they will raise their game with each succeeding public appearance and give the samba bands more cause to beat out the rhythm of success long into the German night and smother every passer-by in flags.

Only theirs, of course, are green and gold.

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