Kasey Keller and Marcus Hahnemann are not only rivals for the United States' goalkeeping jersey in their opening Group E match against the Czech Republic at Gelsenkirchen tonight. They are also the best of friends, a fact that has perplexed German observers accustomed to the long-standing antipathy between Jens Lehmann and Oliver Kahn.
Keller, the former Tottenham, Leicester and Millwall keeper, is now with Borussia Mönchengladbach in the Bundesliga. Hahnemann, whose family emigrated to the US from Germany 40 years ago, has reached the Premiership with Reading after working his passage at such disparate places as Colorado Rapids and Rochdale. But as their team-mates were reminded last week, they have more in common than their day job.
Both have a passion for grunge-metal music and are heard discussing the merits of Audioslave, Everclear and System Of A Down as often as they debate the trajectory of the official tournament ball. Last week they led a mini excursion into Hamburg to head-bang along to the American prog-rock band Tool (most popular tracks "Prison Sex" and "Stinkfist").
Goalkeeper has traditionally been the US's strongest position, and with Manchester United's Tim Howard also in the squad, they again appear well-equipped. Keller, the only player at this World Cup to have been involved in the 1990 competition, is expected to be first-choice against the Czechs. The coach, Bruce Arena, who preferred Brad Friedel to Keller four years ago, is now the 36-year-old's biggest advocate.
"What Kasey is all about is winning," Arena said. "Check his credentials and you'll see that we win with him in our goal more than anyone in our history (they have won 51 and lost 16 of Keller's 90 internationals). His speciality is making the big save. Even on our best days in the qualifying group he had to produce a save that made a difference in a game."
Such a tribute, allied to Keller's 50 per cent shut-out record, would appear to leave Hahnemann on the bench, but when asked about their "rivalry" he told reporters: "It may be difficult for you to understand, but we're friends. We've known each other a long time and it's nice to be in the same squad. When we qualified against Mexico, we sang some Slipknot together. Everyone was like, 'You've got to be kidding'."
According to the Fifa rankings the Czechs are the second-best national side on the planet, and the US in fifth. While that may be stretching credulity, at least in the case of the Americans, Arena's men are at a fifth successive World Cup and reached the quarter-finals in 2002. They will lack neither experience - Manchester City's Claudio Reyna matches Keller by coming to his fourth finals - nor invention, with Hahnemann's club-mate Bobby Convey likely to start in left-midfield.
They will certainly be a different proposition from their only previous meeting in the finals with tonight's opponents, Czechoslovakia winning 5-1 in 1990. The Czech Republic claim to be beset by injuries, with Pavel Nedved (knee) the latest casualty after a training-ground collision with David Rozehnal on Thursday.
Milan Baros is reported to be recovering from a strained foot tendon sustained in the friendly against Trinidad & Tobago. Their record scorer Jan Koller has knee and thigh problems, and Vladimir Smicer has been ruled out of the tournament. Arena, however, showed scant sympathy for Karel Bruckner when told of his counterpart's worries.
"If you go by the press reports, three or four of their top players are out," the US coach said. "But I would guess we're going to see them all on the field on Monday."Reuse content