Football: Vogts tries to plug the gaps

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The Independent Online
Germany will be without several of their European Championship stalwarts when they try to end a disappointing run of results against Northern Ireland in tomorrow's World Cup qualifier in Nuremberg.

The libero Matthias Sammer, the defender Thomas Helmer and the midfielders Mario Basler, Dieter Eilts and Christian Ziege have all been ruled out as the Euro 96 winners aim to beat Northern Ireland for the first time in nearly 20 years. The last time they managed it was in 1977: a 5-0 victory in Cologne when their present coach, Berti Vogts, was still playing.

"We are going to have to take the game to Northern Ireland, who have a physical game," said Vogts who was particularly disappointed by Thursday's withdrawal of Eilts with a knee injury. "Dieter is a rock for us and an important player for our system. I now have to think who is going to replace him."

VfB Stuttgart's Thomas Schneider could win his first cap in place of Eilts, while Karlsruhe's Michael Tarnat is tipped to start his first international in Ziege's place on the left flank. Borussia Dortmund's Stefan Reuter is expected to take over the libero role, with Bayern Munich's Thomas Strunz operating as a right wing-back.

The Southampton midfielder, Eyal Berkovitch, and the Tottenham striker, Ronny Rosenthal, have been included in Israel's squad for their World Cup qualifier against Cyprus in Limassol on Sunday.

Japan and South Korea have apparently cleared the first and biggest hurdle of the 2002 World Cup by agreeing to play the opening match in Seoul and the final in Japan.

"Japan will stage the final and the closing ceremony and South Korea the opening game and the opening ceremony," said an official in Seoul at the Office of Preparation for the 2002 Fifa World Cup. The deal was confirmed by Japanese officials and it now needs formal approval only by a Fifa Executive Committee meeting in Barcelona on 7 December.

Fifa yesterday gave the go-ahead to a "mini" World Cup to be contested every two years by continental champions. It confirmed Saudi Arabia will host the first Confederations Cup in December next year.