||ESPNsoccernet: World Cup
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
ESPNsoccernet: May 31, 6:02 PM UK
Klinsmann has much to live up to
Though Germany have never won the World Cup as a unified country, the successes of West Germany are widely respected as achievements of the current nation.
West Germany proved to be a formidable force in world football, perhaps enjoying their most dominant spell prior to unification when they twice finished as runners-up before winning the tournament in 1990.
However, Germany have struggled to make an impact in recent years. Despite reaching the World Cup final in 2002 many felt they had enjoyed a favourable route, which was perhaps proved by the way they were outclassed by Brazil in the final.
Their failure to get out of their group at Euro 2004 in Portugal, in which they were held to a draw by minnows Latvia, only served to confirm many people's doubts. There are plenty of pundits who questioned Germany's ability to qualify for the World Cup this summer, a hurdle which was avoided by their position as hosts.
West Germany first won the World Cup in 1954 when defeating a much fancied Hungary team 3-2. The team was dubbed 'Walter's Eleven' after Fritz Walter.
It would be 20 years before West Germany next tasted World Cup success. It was halcyon days of Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Muller as Germany hosted the tournament in 1974. The Kaiser, Beckenbauer, led the team by example and was a true great of the game. The final was a classic as Germany found themselves up against the superb Netherlands team of the time. Muller proved his status as a Germany legend by grabbing the winning goal in a 2-1 victory.
The German side again reached the World Cup final in 1982 and 1986, losing out to Italy and Argentina respectively. But they won the tournament for the third time in 1990 when gaining revenge over Argentina courtesy of an Andreas Brehme penalty.
But that marked the end of Germany's time as one of the greatest teams in world football. In the years to follow their fortunes dipped until they again made the final in 2002. But their route through the knockout stages, which involved getting past Paraguay, the United States and South Korea, was hardly the most taxing which left doubts over the side's true ability.
The four years following have seen the nation's worries compounded. Qualification for the European Championships was only secured via the play-offs and their poor showing led to the departure of coach Rudi Voeller.
The German FA chose to turn to an untried coach, namely former striking legend Jurgen Klinsmann. Despite his lack of any experience in management it was felt the team needed a talismanic figure to take the team towards the 2006 World Cup on home turf. But it has been a traumatic two years. For every sign of recovery there seems to have been several set-backs, including a 4-1 defeat to Italy and a 2-0 loss to Slovakia.
The main criticism of Klinsmann is that he has failed to return to live in Germany to manage national team. Klinsmann, a World Cup winner in 1990, still lives in California and runs the team from the United States. He has come in for heavy criticism for his perceived lack of dedication to the role.
But Klinsmann, who turns 42 during the tournament, remains defiant in the face of such accusations - as well as the claims that Germany do not have a chance of winning the tournament on home soil.
He had a glittering career as a striker, prolific in front of goal and a strong character on and off the pitch. He started out at Vfb Stuttgart and his performances for the Bundesliga side let to him being named Player of the Year in 1988. He moved to Italy the following year, spending three seasons at Inter Milan.
It was during the 1990 World Cup that Klinsmann first claimed fame for his penchant for diving. He flung himself to the ground when up against Argentina defender Pedro Monzon. The over-the-top roll that followed ensured a red card for Monzon - the first in a World Cup final.
Klinsmann then won the UEFA Cup with Inter in 1992 before playing for Monaco and moving to England with Tottenham Hotspur in 1995. His parody of diving on scoring on his debut against Sheffield Wednesday became a lasting image of Premiership history. In 1995 he was also runner-up in the European Footballer of the Year awards.
He then lifted the UEFA Cup and Bundesliga with Bayern Munich - as well as Euro 96 with Germany - before finishing his career with spells at Sampdoria and Tottenham. At the end of his playing days he emigrated to the USA to work for LA Galaxy as an advisor.
The German FA very much plucked him unexpectedly from the shadows when naming his as Voeller's replacement as a man residing in California with no experience of coaching a team. With results sketchy in the run-up to the finals it will be interesting to see how Klinsmann handles matters in the competitive arena - the Confederations Cup hardly counts.
His critics have been numerous, with former Germany team-mate Lothar Mattheus particularly damning about his tenure. However, one of his star players, as you would expect, has been full of praise.
'I have rarely had a coach who is so incredibly positive and who can motivate people to such a degree,' said midfielder Michael Ballack.
One to watch
Ballack, who will become one of the highest paid players in the world when his free transfer to Chelsea from Bayern Munich is rubber-stamped on July 1, is without doubt the most important player in the Germany squad.
He shot to prominence in the Bayer Leverkusen team which reached the Champions League final in 2001/02. They were also runners-up in the Bundesliga and the German Cup. That same season he scored 17 goals from the centre of the park and was named Germany's Player of the Year. In addition, he was a vital member of the Germany team which reached the final of the 2002 World Cup, although he crucially missed the defeat to Brazil through suspension.
That form led to a summer transfer to Bayern Munich for £9million where the superb attacking displays continued. Ballack helped Bayern to win the Double in his first season - that again led to him being named Player of the Year. It was his second league title, having picked up a winners' medal in his first full season with Kaiserslautern in 1998.
His goalscoring for Bayern and Germany continued to be prolific. With 30 goals from just 63 international appearances he boasts a strike rate which most international forwards could only wish for.
If Germany are to be successful this summer much will rest on his shoulders. Though there was much criticism for the way he ditched Bayern for Chelsea, with accusations that he was only interested in the money, there can be no doubt that he remains one of the world's best and most deadly midfield talents. If Germany are in trouble and in need of a hero it is going to be Ballack they turn to.
As the host country, Germany fans would normally have high expectations for the finals. But their poor performances over the last four years have brought something of a reality check. A favourable group means they should have no trouble reaching the knockout rounds, but just how much further they are capable of getting depends largely on how they make home advantage count.
Any thoughts? Then you can e-mail Dale Johnson.