Klinsmann's bandwagon rolls into Berlin

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The Independent Online

A stunt, a clever way to introduce a sense of perspective, or a heartfelt gesture? Whatever the inspiration, the decision to open yesterday's press conference by Jürgen Klinsmann with a 15-minute video link to the German soldiers serving in Afghanistan was a note of genius.

"We hope we can give you many more games to enjoy," Klinsmann told the soldiers. Two more, tonight's against Ecuador in Berlin, and a second-round tie, are guaranteed; anything else will depend on Klinsmann's team but one positive sign is that the split between captain and coach appears to be healed.

A week ago Michael Ballack and Klinsmann were at odds, with the German captain criticising the coach's tactics and refusal to pick him in the opening game against Costa Rica.

Two matches and six points later and Ballack is asking Klinsmann and the German Football Association to extend into a long-term relationship the marriage of convenience they concocted two years ago.

"The position of the national coach has become dependent on success in recent years," Ballack said. "Everyone thinks only from tournament to tournament. A team, which has a lot of scope to develop and for which has been forecast a bright future, has been found and I would be pleased if [Klinsmann] continued because I think it would be great for German football."

Klinsmann, Germany's fourth coach in as many tournaments, has hinted at being prepared to stay on despite continuing to live in California. But when one of his military inquisitors pressed him on the matter Klinsmann responded: "That's a very direct question. It depends on what happens over the next few weeks."

The 41-year-old was happier focusing on the next 90 minutes. "We are just thinking of Ecuador,. They deserve a lot of respect. They've shown why they finished third in South America qualifying, behind Brazil and Argentina, and that it wasn't only due to altitude," he said referring to Quito's 7,000ft elevation.

Ecuador may be without the injured strikers Carlos Tenorio and Agustin Delgado while Germany could rest the defender Christoph Metzelder, who has a yellow card and is carrying a knock. Chelsea's Middlesbrough-bound defender Robert Huth would come in for his first game of the tournament. One player who will figure, despite being a yellow card away from a ban, is Ballack.

Klinsmann and his Ecuadorian counterpart, Luis Fernando Suarez, insisted they wanted to win the group but conspiracy theorists were already saying that they might endeavour to come second and so avoid Argentina in the quarter-finals.

Winning the group - which Germany can do only if they win tonight, as Ecuador have a better goal difference - not only offers the slim prospect of a second-round tie against Trinidad & Tobago, but also favours Germany geographically. Topping the group would send Germany to Munich for the second round, then lead, if they keep winning, to a quarter-final in Berlin, where the team are conveniently based, then a semi-final in Dortmund. The Westfalenstadion's status as a fortress was cemented by last week's last-minute victory over Poland. It was Germany's 13th win in 14 internationals staged there. Coming second sends Germany on a tour which takes in Stuttgart, Gelsenkirchen and Munich.

Furthermore, victory would maintain the momentum this German team have developed and which, given their weaknesses on the pitch, may be the only way they can fuel a bandwagon all Germany seems to have hitched its dreams to.

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