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World Cup: Vogts demands silence from loud mouths

GERMANY'S coach Berti Vogts is trying to keep team morale high and has banned his World Cup players from back-biting.

"We had the best players in 1994 but not the best team - and for this tournament I have told them I don't want to read in the press players having a go at each other," Vogts said.

The biggest culprit in recent years has been the former captain Lothar Matthaus, whom Vogts surprisingly recalled after a gap of almost four years. "He's a strong personality, but he's the sort of player you need in pressure situations like the World Cup," Vogts said.

Matthaus himself has admitted: "Sometimes I should have kept my mouth shut." He was slung out of the Germany camp acrimoniously just before Euro 96 in England, after verbally attacking Vogts and his former Bayern Munich team-mate Jurgen Klinsmann for allegedly lobbying to have him removed from the squad.

Matthaus is now focused purely on what happens on the pitch. He is set to beat the record of 21 World Cup matches - held by his compatriot Uwe Seeler, Poland's Wladyslaw Zmuda and Argentina's Diego Maradona - if he plays against the United States in Germany's opening match at the Parc des Princes in Paris tomorrow.

The 37-year-old said that, even if he did not play tomorrow, he was still confident of making the team eventually. "I know the score and I accept the situation," he said. "If I wasn't happy with my role I wouldn't be here. A World Cup lasts a long time - it's not just the first three matches."

Matthaus, Germany's winning captain eight years ago, will become the most-experienced World Cup outfield player if he plays. The existing World Cup record of most finals appearances is held by the Mexican goalkeeper Antonio Carbajal, who played 11 games in five finals between 1950 and 1966.

The crackdown on hard tackling has had a positive effect on games so far at the tournament, according to football's governing body.

"People were expecting a flood of red cards because of the new rule on tackles from behind, but it's not happening," the Fifa spokesman Keith Cooper said. "The idea is to allow players to run with the ball freely without fear of being chopped from behind. This is clearly working.

"We've heard many positive comments about the quality of the game," Cooper added. "Players are aware that tackles from behind will be punished."

Fifa had been criticised for implementing the rule for the first time at a World Cup finals tournament without testing it in a major competition before. "The rule is not that new," Cooper said. "A tackle from behind has always been an offence. The difference is that now you get a red card for it."

Fernand Sastre, who organised the campaign to bring the World Cup to France, died of lung cancer yesterday.

The 74-year-old became co-chairman of the organising committee, along with the former national captain Michel Platini, after France was awarded the tournament. He was the president of the French Football Federation from 1973 to 1984.