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Football / World Cup USA '94: Sammer's fitness in the balance

GERMANY'S preparations for their World Cup quarter-final against Bulgaria tomorrow were set back as the injured midfielder Matthias Sammer's hopes of being fit hung in the balance. Sammer, one of the world champions' most impressive players at the tournament, has been suffering with a strained calf muscle in his left leg.

In spite of the nagging injury, Berti Vogts, the coach, is still optimistic the Borussia Dortmund player will be able to take the field. 'He can always have a fitness test in the stadium (during training) on Saturday. He is an important player and I hope he can play,' Vogts said as the Germans prepared to leave their Chicago training camp and fly to New York yesterday morning.

Vogts wants to retain the team which produced by far their best performance of the World Cup in the 3-2 victory over Belgium in the second round last weekend. But the Germany coach said he would bring in either Andy Moller, Thomas Strunz or Maurizio Gaudino if Sammer failed to play.

Moller was dropped after some disappointing form in the first round. Vogts said Strunz was recovering well from his thigh strain and Eintracht Frankfurt's Gaudino had looked impressive in training.

Vogts played down a report that he might resign after the World Cup because of criticism from the German media during the first phase. 'As long as I am enjoying the job and enjoying working with the team I will stay,' he said.

Vogts has warned his team not to be complacent. 'I have to put up a finger of warning at anybody who thinks we are on our way to Los Angeles (for the final),' he said. 'We are going to have to play as well as we did against Belgium to send the Bulgarians home.'

In particular, the Germans have to face Hristo Stoichkov, the striker who has a huge appetite for success. 'When you're hungry you always want to eat more,' Stoichkov, who has four goals to his credit so far, said. The second-round win on Tuesday over Mexico, in which Stoichkov scored one of the goals of the tournament, prompted nationwide celebrations in Bulgaria. Whatever happens in tomorrow's quarter-final, the squad will fly back to Sofia to a heroes' welcome.

However, that has not stopped Stoichkov looking beyond the match to a meeting with his Barcelona team-mates if Spain can come through today's quarter-final against Italy in Boston. 'We have nothing to fear from Germany. They are under more pressure than us,' Stoichkov said at the Bulgarians' Princeton hotel. 'They are the world champions. Everyone expects them to beat us. We have nothing to lose and everything to win.'

Stoichkov's partnership with Emil Kostadinov will be central to Bulgaria's counter-attacking style. 'We played together for seven years in the same team at CSKA Sofia,' Kostadinov said. 'I know exactly what he is going to do and because he is so quick off the mark I'm always confident about hitting a pass into space behind a defender.'

GERMANY (probable; 4-4-2): Illgner (Cologne); Berthold (VfB Stuttgart), Kohler (Juventus), Helmer (Bbbbayern Munich), Wagner (Kaiserslautern); Buchwald (VfB Stuttgart), Matthaus (Bayern Munich), Hassler (Roma), Sammer (Borussia Dortmund); Voller (Marseille), Klinsmann (Monaco).

BULGARIA (probable; 4-4-2): Mikhailov (Mulhouse); Iordanov (Sporting Lisbon), Hubchev (Levski Sofia); Ivanov (Neuchatel Xamax), Zvetanov (Levski Sofia); Iankov (Neuchatel Xamax), Lechkov (Hamburg), Sirakov (Levski Sofia), Balakov (Sporting Lisbon); Kostadinov (Porto), Stoichkov (Barcelona).