After the World Cup: Germany's economy is up, but soccer is down

Wednesday, November 22nd 2006, 12:56 pm
By: News On 6

BERLIN (AP) _ More than four months after the World Cup, the German economy is rising, but the same can hardly be said for the country's soccer.

The world's biggest sports event ended July 9 in Berlin, and now Germany is grappling with contradictions as it tries to assess the tournament's lasting impact.

The first-division Bundesliga is averaging a record 38,985 fans this season, although the quality of play leaves much to be desired. In the lower leagues, stadium violence has become alarming, and politicians and police are trying to regain control.

``The atmosphere in the stadiums is better than the performances,'' said Franz Beckenbauer, head of Germany's World Cup effort. ``But the World Cup is still with us, even if the euphoria couldn't last.''

Bayern Munich, off to its worst Bundesliga start in 32 years, is just one of the clubs booed for weeks by home fans because of uninspired play.

In Europe, the league is suffering. Just four German teams are left in the Champions League and UEFA Cup _ two in each competition _ and none is considered a title favorite.

Germany's economy, by contrast, is doing just fine in Europe and elsewhere behind strong export sales.

``The upswing remains intact,'' Andreas Rees, an economist for UniCredit bank, said Tuesday.

How much a humming economy and lower unemployment rate can be attributed to a World Cup is another matter.

``We may never be able to answer that question,'' Ifo Institute economist Gernot Nerb said. ``The economy is not a physics experiment. You just can't take it into the laboratory and isolate one factor.''

The one bright spot in the country's soccer is the performance of the national team. Its young players, who finished third at the World Cup, so electrified the Germans they got caught up in flag-waving not seen since World War II.

Under Joachim Loew, successor to Juergen Klinsmann, the team is 5-0 with a 23-1 goal difference. That total was padded by a European qualifying record 13-0 rout of San Marino.

The only German team that seems to benefit from that is Werder Bremen, which plays the Bundesliga's most exciting football behind seven Germany starters, led by leading World Cup scorer Miroslav Klose.

Bremen, although now a point off the Bundesliga lead, generated 22 goals in a recent streak of five wins and has a chance to advance out of Champions League group play at the expense of defending champion FC Barcelona.

Germany turned a profit of $116 million from the World Cup, but now others want a share of the spoils.

The police union demanded the money be used to pay for the huge force required for the World Cup, which drew 2 million visitors. Officers registered 70,000 hours of overtime, working nonstop.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter wants the money allocated to control the violence in German stadiums, escalating since the largely peaceful World Cup. Nearly every weekend, police are injured in clashes with troublemakers, referees are attacked and dark-skinned players are taunted with racist chants.

``The money is needed _ or a part of the money _ to master the situation,'' Blatter said.