Football / World Cup Kick-Off USA '94: Germans begin long march with heat treatment: World champions commence Fifa's adventurous experiment by taking on the Bolivians in the city that works

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The Independent Online
THE CITY that works, as Chicago bills itself, has been settled by millions of emigres, home to mobsters and Mormons and now accommodates sundry Sox, Bears, Bulls and Cubs. Tonight, as the most ambitious finals in the 64- year history of the World Cup open at Soldier Field, Germany and Bolivia will discover whether it is also their kind of town.

It is certainly not the Germans' kind of weather. The temperature at kick-off time - 2.05pm locally - is forecast to equal a 40-year high of 95 F. Twice this week, an oven blast of heat and humidity has prompted Berti Vogts to cancel training for what is one of the tournament's oldest squads. A reminder of why Chicago is also called the Windy City would do nicely now.

When the Group C schedule was announced, this match looked a breeze for the world champions. Bolivia have never so much as gained a draw in the finals, which they last reached in 1950. Their current credentials, as well as the history of the opening fixture, point to a sticky start for Germany in more ways than one.

Under the managership of Xavier Azkargorta - a Basque professor of psychology - Bolivia's qualifying campaign included a victory over Brazil. Admittedly, their 100 per cent home record was achieved at high altitude in La Paz. Yet they have always played in the capital without claiming such prestigious scalps.

Even without their outstanding attacker, the injured Marco Etcheverry, the South Americans could be a handful. It is interesting to note that both Bolivia and Germany were recently beaten 1-0 by the Republic of Ireland. In Dublin, Bolivia's pace up front caught the eye.

Moreover, Germany tend to be slow starters. In 1974 the West Germans lost to East Germany; four years on they drew with Morocco; and Algeria beat them in '82. But when the going gets tough, the Germans get going.

Vogts, therefore, will not be unduly perturbed if his team, which is expected to feature Lothar Matthaus in the linchpin role of libero and Jurgen Klinsmann as a lone front-runner, start with a draw. What he will be anxious to avoid is Argentina's fate of 1990, when Cameroon launched the finals with a 1-0 win.

That result meant five successive holders had failed to begin with a victory. It also brought the total of goals in the last seven opening games to a measly four. Soldier Field, neo-classical home of the gridiron Bears, is used to higher-scoring affairs, and curious Americans among the billion- strong worldwide TV audience will expect scoring.

The organisers claim 97.3 per cent of tickets for all the matches have been sold, smashing the record set in Italy by 40 per cent. Among tonight's 60,000 crowd will be President Clinton, Chancellor Kohl and Bolivia's Sanchez de Lozada.

On his arrival in Chicago the Bolivian president summed up a planet's sense of anticipation. 'Nobody even noticed I left the country,' he said. 'This is the one time no one talks about the government. The next few weeks will be completely football.'

Javier Clemente, whose Spanish side face South Korea in a Group C match in Dallas tonight, said he would stick with the nucleus of the side who started last week's 2-0 win over Canada, which means Barcelona's Julio Salinas playing a lone front role.