Football: England must face their German nemesis
WORLD CUP QUALIFYING DRAW Keegan happy with hard road while Scots are ecstatic but Wales, Northern Ireland and Republic have tough task
Greece, Finland and Albania, all countries England have never lost to, also bar Kevin Keegan's way to the finals, to be co-hosted by Japan and South Korea, but it is Germany who stand out. With Wembley probably being rebuilt, the home match is likely to be played at Old Trafford.
The England coach, who spent three years playing in the Bundesliga with Hamburg, said after the draw in Tokyo's International Forum: "It'll be tough but I'm reasonably happy. We could have got tougher groups."
Craig Brown, the Scotland coach, seemed positively ecstatic with his team's group, which includes Belgium - the weakest of the top seeds - Croatia, Latvia and San Marino.
The rest of the British and Irish contingent were given tougher tasks. The Republic of Ireland were matched with two heavyweights, the Netherlands and Portugal, while Northern Ireland were pitched into a strong group which will make their search for a manager even harder. But it was the Welsh who came off worse. Not only is their group a difficult one, it does not even carry a financial consolation. None of their opponents will produce much in television revenue, and four involve trips behind the old "Iron Curtain". The fifth, Norway, are as hard to beat as they are to watch.
"We knew whoever we got would be a tough group but I think we have a chance," Mark Hughes, the Welsh manager, said. "It's not a great draw because we wanted a couple of glamour ties. It's well-documented our association doesn't have a lot of money."
While the Welsh and Irish were all in six-nation groups, England and Scotland have only four opponents, thus easing their fixture problems. Keegan, who admitted to being nervous during the draw, was so hyped-up afterwards he named Algeria as one of England's opponents. But he soon concentrated on the German threat.
"Obviously I believe we can beat them, but talk is cheap and we will have to prove it on the pitch," he said. "We will have to perform on the day because they are always up for it.
"We know a lot about each other and we have similar problems - they also have a lot of foreigners in their league - so there can be no excuses. But it is a bonus for me, I speak the language and know a lot of their players. We could have got a tougher group - some have three or four teams who could beat each other."
Brown, who warned Keegan to beware the Finns, who have Jari Litmanen of Barcelona and Liverpool's Sami Hyppia, suggested that both England and Germany would qualify directly with the group runners-up progressing as the best-placed second team.
Of his own group he said: "We have a chance. Croatia are a threat - Zvonimir Boban has fortunately retired from international football but they still have the excellence of Davor Suker and others. Latvia have good young players and a new coach, an Englishman, so we have got to be careful."
Ladbrokes installed Brazil - who are sure to qualify from the lengthy South American group - as 7/2 favourites for the competition, followed by Italy, Spain, Argentina, France... and Germany, at 10/1. England are 20/1.
The differing odds reflect history. The 1966 World Cup win over West Germany remains a golden memory but England have only beaten Germany twice in 14 matches since then. Both occasions were in friendlies, at Wembley in 1985 and in Mexico a decade later. In that time, Germany have knocked England out of three World Cups and two European Championships.
They may now be, as Ray Clemence, the England goalkeeping coach, said yesterday, "in a period of transition", but they still qualified directly for Euro 2000. Erich Ribbeck, who took over as coach when Berti Vogts resigned after the World Cup, had a difficult start, losing twice to the United States and at home to Scotland, but the team is improving.
Keegan, who won one, drew one and lost one as a player against West Germany, added: "Travelling-wise it could have been worse and I know this sounds daft, but I would not change the draw. The way it was panning out we were going to get Spain, Romania or Germany and I think they're all tough, as we've found out before.
"I know people will focus on Germany but we have other tough games and problems lurking if we don't focus on them." That is Germany's strength. Turkey took four points off them in the Euro 2000 qualifying campaign but Germany beat everyone else, including Finland home and away, to top the group.
Many Premiership players will have watched the draw with interest and so will their managers. Australia, with Harry Kewell and Mark Bosnich, will have to travel initially to Samoa, American Samoa, Fiji and Tonga and then, probably, New Zealand and South America; Morocco, with Mustapha Hadji, Youssef Chippo and Hassan Kachloul, begin with a visit to Gambia, while Dwight Yorke's Trinidad & Tobago open against the Netherlands Antilles.
Fifa, the world governing body, will have been relieved that the Asian draw kept apart the likes of Iran, Iraq and Kuwait; India and Pakistan; and China and Taiwan. It also threw up, in Concacaf, not a Group of Death but a Group of Joy which includes Barbados, St Lucia and Grenada. Reuters will not be short of volunteers to report on this group.
The long and occasionally complicated draw began a two-year process of whittling down a record entry of 195 countries to the 29 which will join France, South Korea and Japan, who qualify automatically as holders and joint-hosts respectively, in the finals. The competition will run from 1-30 June 2002. England's campaign should begin in September 2000 with Keegan likely to seek a home tie against Finland or Greece to start with.
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