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Football: New start for depleted Germans

A NEW coach, a new team and a series of injuries should go a long way to levelling the playing field when Germany visit improving Turkey in their European Championship Group Three qualifier today.

"A whole new team and the injuries have put us in a difficult position. A draw would be a success," said the new German coach, Erich Ribbeck.

Germany's first-choice strikers, Oliver Bierhoff and Ulf Kirsten, were both struggling with injuries before today's match in the western Turkish city of Bursa.

"If Bierhoff can't play it will be a big handicap for us. He is not only our goalscorer, he's the captain and my right-hand man on the pitch," Ribbeck said. "But I think he will be able to play."

Ribbeck, appointed after Berti Vogts stepped down last month, has had his options reduced with injuries forcing him to leave out four first- choice players, including the veteran libero Lothar Matthaus and the midfielder Thomas Strunz.

In their place, the 61-year-old coach has chosen a string of uncapped players. "I'm not afraid of bringing a newcomer to Turkey," he said.

And while the Turks are hoping the disruption works in their favour they are aware it could be a double-edged sword. "Our biggest disadvantage is the changes he has made in the German side. We don't know most of the new players brought in by Erich Ribbeck," said the Turkish coach, Mustafa Denizli.

Among the new men he does know is the midfielder Mustafa Dogan, an ethnic Turk who plays for Istanbul's Fenerbahce. The player can expect a mixed reception from the patriotic Turkish fans in Bursa if he takes to the field for his debut in a German strip.

Another expatriate Turk, Switzerland's Kubilay Turkyilmaz, once refused to play for his national team against Turkey for fear of being branded a traitor.

"I wish Turkey and Germany hadn't been drawn in the same group. I have mixed feelings about it, but if Ribbeck gives me the chance, I'll do my best," said Dogan.

Turkey's record is dwarfed by that of Germany, but, inspired by increasing success in European club competitions and some respectable international performances, Denizli believes his team is good enough take on the reigning champions. "We are not afraid of the Germans. We are strong enough to beat them," he said.

Denizli can count on the notoriously hostile atmosphere created by the Turkish fans in Bursa, a ferry and a bus ride from the nearest international airport and unlikely to host many Germans.

It was in the same stadium that Turkey defeated the Netherlands 1-0 in a World Cup qualifier last year. The scorer on that occasion was the striker Hakan Sukur, Turkey's top domestic marksman for two years running with 32 goals in 34 league games last season. "This match is very important for us, but also for them as it is their first experience under a new coach)," said Hakan. "With such a great atmosphere here, we are determined to win."

"As a striker you cannot fault Hakan. We'll pay him close attention," said Oliver Bierhoff.

"I know Hakan. I'm taking special precautions against this player," added Ribbeck.

Andorra, newcomers to international football, host Ukraine today and then take on France in the Stade de France on Wednesday. However, the principality's Brazilian coach, Manoel Miluir, is not willing to be drawn on the match against the World Cup winners. "I am not worried about the Paris match," he said. "What is important is to get a good result against Ukraine first."