HAMBURG, Germany – When the U.S. soccer team arrived at the World Cup on Friday, players were greeted with a far less visible show of force than they saw in South Korea four years ago.
Players and the coaching staff traveled in a charter flight from Newark Liberty International Airport, an Airbus A319-100 with 48 seats, all business class.
Led by coach Bruce Arena and captain Claudio Reyna, the U.S. team walked off the plane at Hamburg Airport just after 6:10 a.m. and was greeted by a choir dressed in soccer jerseys, singing "You'll Never Walk Alone" and "We Are The Champions."
Alexandra Dinges-Dierig, the Hamburg Minister for Education and Sport, greeted the team along with Duane Butcher, the U.S. Consul General in Hamburg.
Players, many carrying cameras and taking pictures and video, had a 75-foot walk on a red carpet to the team bus, which went directly to the downtown hotel.
Police and security vehicles surrounded the bus on the tarmac. But it was nothing like the scene four years ago at Incheon International Airport, where players came out of customs following a 14 1/2-hour flight from New York and were surrounded by about 500 police who formed a corridor on either side, with SWAT team commandos mixed in, automatic weapons slung from their shoulders and hands on pistols.
The city, known formerly as the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, is at the junction of the River Elbe and two other rivers, the Alster and Bille. More than 100 sets of giant luminescent pipes forming soccer goals have been erected along the lakefront and other spots, a project by illumination artist Michael Batz called — what else? — "Blue Goals."
The team was to hold its first news conference in Germany in the early afternoon, then head to its first workout at Norderstedt, the training camp of the local Bundesliga team, Hamburger Sport-Verein.
Expectations are higher than four years ago, partly because of the Americans' quarterfinal finish in 2002 and their No. 5 world ranking.
"The ranking has got expectations maybe a bit skewed," defender Chris Albright said Thursday in New York after several U.S. players appeared on ABC's "Good Morning America."
"I think it's flattering that we're fifth in the world, but I don't know if that's exactly accurate. But at the same time, what do rankings mean? Who would have thought George Mason would get to the Final Four?"
Tired after a tough training camp and three exhibition games in six days, the Americans had three days off this week before leaving. They have a closed scrimmage against Angola on Monday ahead of their World Cup opener against the second-ranked Czech Republic on June 12 in Gelsenkirchen.
"Playing-wise, we still need a little more time," midfielder Landon Donovan said. "We did a ton of running, and when you're running that much and you're that tired, you can't play well. You saw in the three games last week that everyone was dragging. Now we have some time to get our legs back."