Football / World Cup USA '94: Strong hold of Germany: As criticism rains on Vogts and his men, reigning champions revel in a siege mentality: Ian Ridley senses the growing resolve of Europe's most formidable contenders

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The Independent Online
THE Germans' training camp in the leafy, white, Chicago suburb of Westmont was exactly as you might expect of a team whose football federation was faxing World Cup organisers months ago with minute-by-minute itineraries. In a store room by the pristine training field at the excellently appointed Hinsdale High School even stood a plywood defensive wall, complete with model players' hands covering private parts. No detail is overlooked.

But, in the manner of American TV mini-series, the manicured lawns of the hickory houses with basketball hoops hung above the garages can conceal anger and turbulence. It seemed appropriate that shortly after the German training session broke up, two carloads of joyriding kids with too much time and money on their hands were throwing firecrackers from backseat windows.

The German camp has become accustomed to sparks flying following a mediocre series of group matches. 'Siegen oder fliegen' - win or quit - was the instruction to Berti Vogts from the newspaper Bild before the win over Belgium, which ended a week that saw Stefan Effenberg sent home for his fingered insult to spectators.

Then there have been hints of a rift between Vogts and Lothar Matthaus, with the coach being accused of not using the captain's experience and expertise, which he will today bring to bear against Bulgaria in equalling the finals appearance record of 21 held by Uwe Seeler, Diego Maradona and Poland's Wladislaw Zmuda, and setting a German caps record of 117. There were rumblings, too, that Rudi Voller had told Vogts that he would rather go home than sit on the subs' bench.

Another hitch last week was the departure of the midfield player Mario Basler, who felt compelled to fly home due to complications with his wife's pregnancy. He will return on Monday. Then Voller objected to an exaggerated story that his young son had been saved from drowning, and Vogts to a television crew filming his child at kindergarten.

Vogts also had to deny another report from back home that he had told the president of the Deutscher Fussball Bund that he was ready to resign.

A bizarre news conference was promptly interrupted by a German TV reporter presenting Vogts with a T-shirt from his station proclaiming 'Burger fur Berti'. He did, it was true, look in need of some kind of nourishment. More velvet glove covering iron fist came when Kicker magazine presented their Player of the Year awards, Matthaus coming out on top.

Bild and its sports magazine have paid some pounds 25,000 for Effenberg's account - which the player has donated to a hospital in Ghana - but have called ceasefire before today's quarter-final in Giants Stadium, New Jersey. It seems that nothing short of the champions' reaching the final will satisfy a nation which has contested the previous three.

It may resemble the Italians of 1982 and the English of 1990 ('Bring 'em home, Bobby') who drew strength from vilification. The Germans - leading an unprecedented seven-team European challenge in the last eight - do seem to be pulling together in adversity, as the performance against Belgium showed. Familiarly, they do look more intimidating.

Matthaus denies any rift between him and Vogts and says that he was, for example, consulted over the dropping of Andreas Brehme, who, he adds, has accepted the position like a professional, as did Voller when not included in starting line-ups. The defender Thomas Berthold added: 'We have had a lot of personal problems but we are not egotists. The team believe in their strength.

'It is different from four years ago. The first big difference is that now we have another coach. Then we had Franz Beckenbauer and everybody said 'yes' to him. Now our coach has a lot of problems with the press. They attack him and we get a lot of problems in the team that are not important. We must concentrate on our own game. Outside our own country we are not so criticised.'

Indeed, it is with envy that the outside looks in. The world sees it as almost inevitable that the Germans will go on now to reach the final, having eased a traditionally sluggish start out of their system and discovered a balanced blend against Belgium.

But at each step, Vogts's judgement has been questioned. After taking over from Beckenbauer, he looked long and hard at the younger pretenders and ultimately found them wanting. Some six months ago he returned to the nucleus which had won the trophy last time, even travelling to Marseille a few months ago to persuade the 34-year-old Voller to end a two-year international exile.

Still, the problems persisted right into this tournament. Karlheinz Riedle was not the right partner for Klinsmann. Playing Klinsmann alone with, in deeper- lying support, Thomas Hassler and Andy Moller, who was supposed to be the Germans' trump card, did not gel. Vogts became irritable when questioned on whether he yet knew the best attacking formation at his disposal.

Then came Voller, scoring two and laying on another for Klinsmann, his fifth of the tournament, at Soldier Field, Chicago's. 'I don't have problems with anybody but it was really fun playing with him,' says Klinsmann. 'We played together for five or six years in the national team so I know exactly what he does and he knows how I move and run.'

It is a renewed partnership that threatens to turn into goals all the muscularly efficient approach work that characterises the Germans. Klinsmann may be the star at centre stage but Voller's supporting role has turned the production around.

Berthold, though, expressed a reservation within the team: 'It is important that our strikers get chances, but maybe we should have beaten Belgium 5-1 or 6-1. Maybe against Bulgaria we will close the game earlier.' Just as Berthold believes that 'the team know when it is the right moment to make corrections,' so Klinsmann feels, with an assurance that is often interpreted as arrogance, in the ingrained durability of the German game.

'Maybe it is a question of our mentality, that always when we are in a little bit of trouble, that there is some pressure, we know exactly how to react. We know now after the Belgium game what we are able to do. If we play this way against Bulgaria I am really optimistic. In our mentality we already have a good confidence and we are always able to play under a high pressure. We like it.'

Voller, too, reflects the self-belief fostered by the nation's decades of participation in the latter stages of major tournaments. When asked if he had been unhappy at being left out for the early games, he replied: 'I knew my hour would come. I wasn't impatient because I knew I wouldn't be able to play in all seven games.' Only the Germans dare talk about all seven games.

The dropping of Moller is one of five changes - one positional, with Berthold moving to right back - made by Vogts since the opening game against Bolivia and while some style would seem to have been sacrificed, the introduction of his replacement, the gangling Guido Buchwald as a holding midfield player has instead liberated the more creative talents for forward duties.

Thomas Hassler, especially, looked against Belgium to have had a weight lifted from his narrow shoulders and was able to provide Klinsmann and Voller with a more reliable service from the flanks. The darting Martin Wagner, meanwhile, proved a more ambitious left-back than had been Brehme, who will now act as Matthaus's sweeping understudy.

There remain concerns for the Germans: an unexpected five goals conceded in four matches, for example, which points to an unusual defensive vulnerability. Thomas Helmer, fortunate not to concede a penalty and be sent off against Belgium, appeared in need of a match to settle in alongside the consistently excellent Jurgen Kohler.

Neither has Matthaus yet explored fully the possibilities of the sweeper's role. Vogts has urged him to get forward more, and he responded by creating the first goal against Belgium, but too often he retreats after a token foray.

Matthaus expects to be fit for today after missing the second half of the last-16 match with a gashed foot, sustained against South Korea, that began bleeding again. Matthias Sammer, who has a calf injury, is the only real doubt and after his steady performances his loss would be felt.

Still, Germany will be heavily favoured today to beat Bulgaria, who will be missing two defenders in Tsanko Zvetanov and Emil Kremenliev, sitting out suspensions. 'Some unknowns, some stars,' is Matthaus's assessment of them.

'Probably Mexico were a better unit,' says Vogts, 'but the Bulgarians have outstanding individuals in Stoichkov, Kostadinov, Balakov and Lechkov. That is our task in this game, to stop them playing. It is what we have been working on.'

All four have contracts in the west, in Spain, Portugal and Germany, but for the bit players the World Cup represents a chance to catch the eye of clubs and agents in the stronger, wealthier leagues. It is one reason why Bulgaria, and the similarly made-up Romania and Sweden, who meet today in San Francisco in a contest of counter-attacking grace versus solidity, have performed so well in these championships.

'Europeans just fight harder,' adds Matthaus as a reason for the proliferation of European quarter- finalists. 'Now we want to show that they can become world champions outside of Europe.' The meticulous Germans, fortified by criticism rather than weakened by it, seem metaphorically to be forming a wall and covering up their private parts in preparation for becoming the team to do it.

(Photograph omitted)