Lehmann backs Germany to finish the task

Jens Lehmann yesterday mocked England's World Cup hopes by claiming Sven Goran Eriksson's team did not know how to "get the job done" in major tournaments. The Arsenal goalkeeper suggested last week that England fans admire the Germans for their "ability to perform when it counts most".

Two days before Germany's opening match against Costa Rica in Munich tomorrow - and with a possible second-round meeting with England looming - the outspoken Lehmann put the boot into Eriksson's team.

He said: "The English know that we [Germany] have always been more successful than them during tournaments. That is instilled in the back of their minds."

The 36-year-old, embarking on his first World Cup as Germany's first-choice goalkeeper, after edging out Oliver Kahn, described Eriksson's team as "actually very good and probably the best in years".

But he still could not resist questioning their ability to reach the final. Lehmann continued: "They know how to perform and how to play quick and efficient football. What they don't know is how to go through a whole tournament because they have had a lot of disappointment in recent tournaments.

"We are ahead of them with our World Cup experience because we know how to do the job better than England. That is something they don't have."

Lehmann believes England's chances could hinge on the fitness of strikers Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney, both of whom have doubts hanging over them.

"The English have a very good team this year," he said. "But you have to wait and see about the fitness of their two strikers because they haven't played for a while."

Lehmann's captain, Michael Ballack, did not complete his first training session on the way back from injury yesterday.

Yesterday's session was closed to the public and to the media. The German Football Association announced in a brief statement that Ballack had left training early. Ballack, the new Chelsea signing, suffered a strain to his right calf in the World Cup hosts' 3-0 win over Colombia last Friday.

The player and coaching staff have insisted all along that the injury was not serious but time was running out last night for him to make the curtain-raiser in Munich tomorrow.

"The medical department is working flat out and Michael Ballack is making progress in his recovery," a German Football Association spokesman told reporters yesterday.

Germany, the three-times World Cup winners, also play Poland and Ecuador in Group A and would certainly miss their inspirational captain should he not make the opening match.

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