'That blond guy,' Klinsmann's epithet in one cavernous bar here, has precipitated a tremor of interest in a land of non-believers, a service worthy of a Fifa award to accompany his accolade for 'Most Memorable Moment' in Germany's opening victory over Bolivia at Soldier Field. The 29-year-old's goal received extensive coverage in an American media which seems to have embraced, however temporarily, the world's game. Yesterday's Chicago Tribune featured more 'soccer' than Sunday's big wins for the White Sox and Cubs, including a full-page graphic on how to dummy defenders and execute bicycle kicks.
If Klinsmann has excited Illinois, his goal has relaxed Berti Vogts' world champions. Group C had appeared the most routine of the six sections, with Germany and Spain, who meet at Soldier Field tonight, considered certain qualifiers while Bolivia and South Korea contest third place. But Spanish ambition was damaged by the Asians' late draw and the dismissal of Miguel Angel Nadal, whose two-match suspension for a tackle from behind emphasised Fifa's strong line on cynical football. 'It's totally unfair and out of proportion,' Javier Clemente said of the ban on his captain.
Questions about Spanish potential revealed little of Vogts' true thoughts, although he stressed his 'great respect for them'. Of Germany's own preparations, carried out with great efficiency at Hinsdale Central High School outside the Windy City, Vogts became more expansive. 'I feel from our training sessions that our speed is coming back,' he added, 'and all our players are in good shape.'
Vogts' settled side contrasted with Clemente's disorientated party. South Korea earned substantial praise for their comeback, but Clemente knows that even with 10 men a team considered prospective quarter-finalists should have held on for victory. The draw, while not a disaster, has simply made qualifying marginally more awkward. But the absence of the commanding Nadal has inevitably weakened Spain's defence.
Clemente, who insisted that 'spirits are high', has recalled Andoni Zubizarreta, Barcelona's experienced goalkeeper, who was suspended for the South Korean game. He is hoping for uplifting performances, both collectively and individually. Reviving the spirit and muscular endeavour that brought Spain a deserved qualifying victory in Dublin is part of the plan to undermine German hegemony.
Once a platform of midfield containment has been established, Clemente will look for a pair of tyros to dominate the ageing champions: Josep Guardiola, a former Barcelona ballboy on the edge of widespread international recognition, and Julen Guerrero, Athletic Bilbao's piano-playing 20-year-old.
Guardiola and Guerrero, though, are likely to be too inexperienced to combat so many veterans of Italia '90, who are now moulded into an increasingly tight 4-5-1 formation. Germany should have little trouble in recording their third successive finals victory over Spain and the smart Deutschmarks are going on those scorelines from Villa Park in 1966 and Barcelona 12 years ago: 2-1.
GERMANY (probable): Illgner (Cologne); Matthaus (Bayern Munich), Brehme (Kaiserslautern), Berthold (VfB Stuttgart), Kohler (Juventus), Effenberg (Fiorentina), Sammer (Borussia Dortmund), Strunz (VfB Stuttgart), Hassler (Roma), Moller (Juventus), Klinsmann (Monaco).
SPAIN: Zubizarreta (Barcelona); Ferrer (Barcelona), Abelardo (Sporting Gijon), Hierro (Real Madrid), Goicoechea (Barcelona), Guardiola (Barcelona), Sergi (Barcelona), Caminero (Atletico Madrid), Alkorta (Real Madrid), Salinas (Deportivo La Coruna), Luis Enrique (Real Madrid).
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