The comparative ease with which Germany overcame the Czechs was further proof of their superiority in development

COMMENTARY

As a consequence of the abuse he has sometimes suffered in popular German newspapers, Berti Vogts's relations with reporters have been subject to frequent emotional disturbance. No, Vogts said calmly on the eve of Euro 96, no, he does not find the burden of history troublesome.

Vogts's most persistent critics interpret this as a challenge. They press Germany's national coach to admit the pressure of emulation, supposing that if he can just about get through the days, the nights must make him nervous.

It is not just Germany's remarkable record of victory in four World Cups and three European Championships but that all Vogts's predecessors, Sepp Herberger, Helmut Schon, Jupp Derwall and Franz Beckenbauer, were winners. "Bertie keeps on insisting that it won't be a big disappointment personally if his name isn't added to that list, but I don't believe him for one moment," a veteran German football correspondent, Hartmut Scherzner, said before Germany played the Czech Republic at Old Trafford on Sunday.

German football has no patience with illusions. In reaching the final of the 1992 European Championship and the World Cup quarter- finals two years ago, Vogts has proved a capable successor to the charismatic Beckenbauer but much more is required of him in the present campaign. "I'm sure that most countries would celebrate getting to the final of a big football tournament, but Germany have taken part in so many that if we lose, the coach is no longer safe," Scherzner added. "For example, Derwall won the European Championship in 1980, but didn't survive a loss to Italy in the World Cup final two years later."

Upholding the coach's right to ignore speculative intrusions, Vogts is discreetly vague about his team's prospects. "I was pleased with a lot of our play but there is room for improvement," he said shortly after Sunday's match.

Probably the football experience that brought Vogts most pleasure was playing at right-back when West Germany defeated the Netherlands in the 1974 World Cup final. Today's crop of players may not be able to match that team for individual excellence but they could turn out to be an excitingly modern combination.

Dangerous conclusions are all too easily reached at the start of a tournament but it cannot be imagined that there is a team out there with Germany's athleticism, speed and vigour. They are tall too, none apart from Thomas Hassler standing much short of six feet.

Typically, you may think, there were some dissenting British voices, including that of the former Manchester United and Scotland defender Martin Buchan, who expected more from the Germans technically. "They look very fit and strong, but frankly I was a bit disappointed," he said. "Of course, with Jurgen Klinsmann back from suspension they are bound to be a better team but I didn't see a lot that would frighten me if I was coming up against them."

What you cannot get away from is that despite Klinsmann's popularity when turning out for Tottenham Hotspur, the successes Ger- many have achieved are resented in this country, especially I think since they reached the 1990 World Cup final by defeating England in a penalty shoot-out.

But nobody can avoid the fact that Germany have been impressively consistent for 30 years while England have made very little if any real progress. The contrast between England's muddled effort against Switzerland and the comparative ease with which Germany overcame the Czechs in what was thought to be a difficult opening game for them was further proof of their superiority in development.

But for the fussy refereeing that makes the schoolteacher David Elleray irritatingly conspicuous - clearly a man among boys and a boy among men - and broke up the flow of a game that was never remotely violent, Germany may have added to the impression that they are justifiably installed as favourites.

"I don't know anything about that," Vogts said. "I think this is a good team, a good squad and the players are well prepared, better than for the last World Cup when we had a problem with the conditions. To get so many yellow cards was a disappointment because we should have learned quickly from the referee's attitude."

A fanciful theory is that the Germans have given up on individual brilliance: no great stars, a sound method, powerful running with the ball, and collective authority. These are no bad things anyway, but in Hassler, the sweeper, Matthias Sammer, and Andreas Moller they have men who could elevate Vogts to the status of his predecessors.

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