PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 June, 2006, 12:00am


Morning has just broken over Germany as we are about to land. Looking out of my window, I can see nothing but an endless patchwork quilt of green. There is a spectral calmness in the air. It seems like I have just landed in the eye of the typhoon.

But from tomorrow, the storm will start. Years, months and days of preparation will come to an end for the 31 teams lucky to have made it to Germany. The action will kick-off in Munich when the hosts take on Costa Rica.

Germans are already on tenterhooks. During the flight from Hong Kong, I strike up a conversation with Sandrine Eckhert, the flight attendant who rules the galley with a bright smile and quick wit. Like many of her countrymen, she is totally betrothed to football for the next month. And she worries if Californian commuter Jurgen Klinsmann has done enough since he took over as coach two years ago to turn a side lacking star-quality into champions.

'We only have one player who can be called world class and he is our captain, Michael Ballack. Apart from him, I worry our side is still very green and lacking experience,' says Sandrine.

Wow. Not only can she adroitly hand over a mushroom omelette, but she can certainly deliver a treatise on the ability - or rather lack of it - of the German side.

Another passenger, Will, chips in with his take on Ballack. 'He has great presence. And a great pair of legs,' says Will, lifting his eyebrows suggestively. I excuse myself hurriedly, get back to my seat and drift into an uneasy sleep. The first thing that strikes you as you walk out of the terminal is how crisp the air is. It's 5am and the temperature is five degrees Celsius. It's cold, but invigorating. I gulp down huge breaths of air. My lungs don't know what's hit them. Where's that smog-filled soup we inhale nearly every day in Hong Kong? No athlete is going to keel over from breathing in the O2 made in this vast garden of greenness. How I wish Hong Kong could be like this. However, some people never realise how fortunate they are. They take things, like the simple act of breathing, for granted. Like my Turkish taxi driver Kerim. A citizen of Germany for the past eight years, Kerim is unhappy on this bright and lovely morning.

His gripe is the country of his birth has failed to qualify for this tournament. Turkey were pipped by Switzerland on the away-goals rule. 'We are a good football nation and it is a pity we won't be playing. There would have been so much support for Turkey because there are a lot of Turks living in Germany,' says Kerim.

So will he be supporting his adopted country? 'No way,' he says. It is a real shame that immigrants, instead of adapting to their new homes, continue to carry their baggage of ethnicity and religious zeal. His nationalistic viewpoint seems to cast a cloud over the tournament. I shudder at the thought of rubbing shoulders with thousands of fans of a similar mindset over the next few weeks. The morning calmness is suddenly eerie. A storm is on its way.

Number of the Day: 60. Taxis are expensive in Germany. From the airport to my hotel, it cost me Euro60 ($600) and this for a distance maybe half that from Hong Kong's airport to Central.