Voller pins World Cup plans on Leverkusen

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The Independent Football

The eyes of Europe were on Germans arriving in Britain yesterday, carrying the hopes of a nation, although the focus was on Klaus Toppmöller's Bayer Leverkusen, not Rudi Völler's Cardiff-bound national team.

The eyes of Europe were on Germans arriving in Britain yesterday, carrying the hopes of a nation, although the focus was on Klaus Toppmöller's Bayer Leverkusen, not Rudi Völler's Cardiff-bound national team.

Naturally, the five Leverkusen players in their World Cup squad (Jörg Butt, Michael Ballack, Carsten Ramelow, Bernd Schneider and Oliver Neuville) are elsewhere. However, Völler, who left the BayArena to take charge of Germany, is also anxious lest defeat by Real Madrid in tomorrow's European Cup final saps what little remains of those players' confidence following their dramatic failure to take the Bundesliga title and their defeat to Schalke in the German cup final.

"There is nothing else I can do except keep my fingers crossed for them," Völler said yesterday. "If they did lose the final, it would be extremely tough to pick them up again."

Tonight's friendly with Wales at the Millennium Stadium will be noted with interest by the Ireland manager Mick McCarthy. Since the meeting between the Irish and the Germans on 5 June is seen by both sides as the key to Group E, Völler chose Wales as for the similarity of style he will encounter in Ibaraki.

Facing a side that has drawn with Argentina and the Czech Republic will not be the kind of cakewalk the Germans encountered in their last friendly, a 7-0 thrashing of Kuwait, which was supposed to prepare them for their opening group game with Saudi Arabia.

After securing qualification via an emphatic play-off victory against Ukraine, Völler, who was expected to return to his post of Leverkusen's technical director after Japan, was offered a contract until the 2006 World Cup, although the Germany coach is under few illusions he will be around for it should he fail in the Far East.

"I want to combine success and attractiveness," he said. "But I must be realistic and see the immediate goal as the quarter-finals. Should I encounter any problems, then I will not be hanging on to my job."

Völler's counterpart, Mark Hughes – told yesterday by his club Blackburn that they will not be renewing his playing contract – will be without his regular keeper, Southampton's Paul Jones, and the striking talents of the injured Craig Bellamy and Nathan Blake, while Jason Koumas has been released to attend the birth of his child. Cardiff's talented young striker, Robert Earnshaw, is likely to make his international debut alongside John Hartson, Wales' footballer of the year.

Ryan Giggs has been released by Manchester United for only his third friendly international, although the icon of Welsh football is still troubled by United's defeat to Leverkusen in the semi-finals of the Champions' League. "It was the lowest point of my 10 years at the club," he said. "Beating Germany with Wales would not make up for it, but it would be great."

WALES (probable, 4-4-2): Crossley (Middlesbrough); Delaney (Aston Villa), Melville (Fulham), Page (Sheffield United), Speed (Newcastle); Davies (Tottenham), Savage (Leicester), Robinson (Wolverhampton), Giggs (Manchester United); Earnshaw (Cardiff), Hartson (Celtic).

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