The World Cup has reached the quarter-finals and so Germany, of course, are still around, just as they have been in every one of their appearances at the finals since the Second World War.
The World Cup has reached the quarter-finals and so Germany, of course, are still around, just as they have been in every one of their appearances at the finals since the Second World War. At the last two tournaments, however, it has been thus far and no further, Bulgaria in 1994 and Croatia four years ago recording highly popular victories against German sides that never quite seemed to be at ease with themselves.
The coach, Rudi Völler, as a member of the class of '94, should be aware of the pitfalls. He now presides over a happier squad, which will have the backing of the Ulsan crowd today against what would appear to be less demanding opposition, in the United States, than is normally encountered at this stage of the competition.
"I've never seen such a good atmosphere in my entire career," said Oliver Neuville, the little Bayer Leverkusen striker whose fine goal beat Paraguay in an otherwise turgid second-round match. He and his team-mates will also enjoy the atmosphere at the Munsu Stadium, where the locals' shirts and shouts are expected to be for Germany, or, more specifically, against the States. Anti-American feeling may not be as high as in North Korea, but in the south there is still little love for the Stars and Stripes, for economic and sporting reasons; when Ahn Jung-Hwan, the new Korean hero, scored against them in the Group D match, his speed skating celebration was a tribute to the South Korean disqualified at the last Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, whose gold medal went to an American.
In drawing that game 1-1, the US achieved something that neither Portugal nor Italy managed. They have clearly made progress since the disappointments of France '98, following the spread of professionalism and – perhaps more significantly – the employment of half the squad by European clubs. Now they will try to make the most of something that does not come naturally to Americans – starting out as the plucky little underdogs.
"The team that has to win this game is Germany," said the US coach, Bruce Arena, yesterday. "If we don't, we'll do fine. We'll go home and everyone will be happy with us. We enter the game with the belief that we can win. We know that on any given day we can beat anyone in the world."
The latter assertion nevertheless sounds a little fanciful, especially if based on 45 minutes' football against an ageing Portuguese defence. Losing 3-1 to Poland in the final group match suggested that the Americans lack consistency if nothing else; and while the counter-attacking second-round victory over Mexico was well deserved, it was a piece of good fortune to be meeting their near-neighbours and not Italy, who should have qualified as group winners.
There are wider tasks too for both teams. Arena, a Brooklyn boy, hopes that further success would raise the profile of "soccer" in his homeland.
To the Germans, however, falls the task of restoring something of the old order of world football. Völler, though he would rather not be carrying that burden, is confident that the team can improve on their performance against Paraguay, which should be helped by the return from suspension of Carsten Ramelow, Dietmar Hamann and Christian Ziege, who were all victims of a deluge of yellow cards against Cameroon in the final Group E match. The defender Christoph Metzelder has recovered from an ankle injury and Michael Ballack is also expected to play despite undergoing only light training yesterday as a precautionary measure.
"I am aware of our limitations and realistic," Völler said. "We are a bit below teams like Brazil and England, who have more class than we have. But with our team spirit and collective effort, we can beat any side."
Of the lesser-known names ranged against the Germans, Eddie Pope, Pablo Mastroeni and Crystal Palace's Gregg Berhalter will have a critical role in helping to subdue Neuville and Miroslav Klose, the competition's joint top scorer with Ronaldo. Among those who think they will fail is the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, who yesterday took his country to win 2-0. He may not be far out.Reuse content