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http://soccernet.espn.go.com/columns/story?id=360708&root=worldcup&cc=5901

Regular readers of this column will know that its writer enjoys few things more than spending a week in Germany. The language and its intricacies had me beguiled from a young age. Later, as a student, I found the culture of Bratwurst and Bundesliga completely irresistible.

I always learn something brand new about German attitudes on my visits. A week in the 2006 World Cup host country on a recent interviewing trip for the panel discussion programme I present, ESPNSoccernet Press Pass, proved no exception.

What did I discover and what does it have to do with football? Simply put, Germans, from the Marienplatz in Munich, to the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, are fearing the worst for their national team this summer. It's all a far cry from the outlook of football followers I used to encounter in the lively Ratskeller in Kassel and Frankfurt back in the 80s.

Germans, once upon a time, had the utmost faith in their footballing abilities, and in the men charged with devising a successful formula. Even if they didn't always have the most technically gifted players in the world, no one could match them for discipline, work-rate and tactical organisation. After all, these were the qualities that enabled Helmut Schön's West German team to win the 1974 World Cup on home soil.

It was a similar story in 1982 and 1986 when first Jupp Derwall and then the incomparable Franz Beckenbauer guided West Germany to second position, before they lifted the most famous trophy on the planet again in 1990 under the Kaiser's aegis.

Now here we are less than a hundred days before the 2006 competition kicks off in Munich. While there is genuine enthusiasm about the World Cup's impending arrival in the various German cities, no-one is getting overly excited about the chances of the Nationalmannschaft. Wednesday's horrific 4-1 defeat in Italy will have done nothing to lift the sense of gloom enveloping the country.

This prevalent feeling stands in contrast to the mood of last summer's Confederations Cup, when Jürgen Klinsmann's predominantly young team were given the benefit of the doubt. While many a silly goal was gifted on the pitches of Frankfurt, Köln and Nürnberg in June 2005, there appeared to be the bones of something substantial to build on.

Attacking football was in vogue, as were the new poster boys for the national team, Lukas Podolski and Bastian Schweinsteiger: or 'Poldi' and 'Basti' if you prefer. Finishing third was no disgrace.

Now here we are re-examining matters on a cold early March morning and the omens are anything but good. Since those heady Confed Cup days, Germany have lost to Slovakia, Turkey and now Italy. Most worrying of all, is the damning statistic that German reporters can't seem to stop making the general public aware of. That is, that they haven't beaten one of the football world's traditional powers for five-and-a-half years.


Much of the blame has been conveniently laid at Klinsmann's California door. As someone living nine time zones away, he's an easy target. I can't really see though, what the national coach can do if 'Poldi,' has lost his form while 'Basti' and Per Mertesacker are not the players they seemed to be last summer.

It was always going to be unrealistic to expect the youngsters to carry the team on their shoulders. That's where 33-year-old Christian Wörns might have come in. Alas, his relationship with Klinsmann has foundered on a dispute over public comments by the Dortmund man, which were critical of his omission from the last two German squads. The damage is apparently now irreparable. It's Germany's loss in my view.

Klinsmann is beginning to worry many Germans. Politicians of all political shades stand united in wanting him to appear before the Parliamentary Sports Committee to explain what's going on with the Nationalelf. His way of working is perhaps too revolutionary for many; it's change for change's sake, I heard time and again in Munich.

I have defended Klinsmann in the past, and think some measure of rationality is necessary this time too. However, I believe he was misguided in pushing German national hockey coach Bernhard Peters as Sporting Director for the DFB, to the exclusion of man ultimately appointed, Mathias Sammer.

Bringing in American physiotherapists and training specialists is fine, as long as the people concerned are qualified to do the job (there's no evidence they're not.) Similarly, residing in far-away California is all very well, as long as progress regarding the national side is evident. Sadly, that Germans have little confidence in their national team is undeniable.

I'm surprised that at least in the six-month run-up to the World Cup, Klinsmann hasn't opted to spend a minimum of three weeks out of four in Germany, where he can better explain his methods and proposed changes to the old way of doing things. By remaining in California he has played perfectly into the hands of his opponents.

Doubtless for the laissez-faire Jürgen, I'm sounding too much like a German now. The coach has been critical in the past of 'the mentality that you always need to justify yourself and whatever you do'.

Sadly, in a World Cup year, you need everyone connected with German football on your side. Klinsmann doesn't have that.

All will be forgotten if the Germans can reach the semi-finals. Goodness knows, very few people, not even within Germany believe, they can win the World Cup this time.

Can Klinsmann get it right by June 9? The clock is ticking.
 
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