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Germany's transatlantic commuter to and from their Euro 2000 campaign expects England's challenge to be all the more potent this summer for having Kevin Keegan as manager.

Never one to mince his words, Lothar Matthaus, the 39-year-old conductor of the German national football orchestra, is as rhapsodic over Keegan as he has been rasping about the American team who are financing the Indian summer of his career.

'Keegan is the right man at the right time for your country,' said Matthaus. 'His management will make England even more dangerous for Germany in a group which is already the tough-est of the European Championship.'

That rare but unequivocal declaration of confidence by a legendary opponent comes as a timely boost for Keegan.

Accusations abound that Keegan's motivational powers might be compromised by his naivety when it comes to the complex strategies of the international game.

Matthaus is having none of it. As we spoke here, a chill wind was driving torrential rain across the open field in New Jersey which is his bleak training base with the New York MetroStars, the all-time American losers to whom he is giving the last of his playing days.

Yet nothing could dampen his admiration for Keegan's England. 'It may be that we know your manager better than you know him,' he said.

'Kevin acquired a deep and lasting respect with us during his time with Hamburg. I remember playing against him in the Bundesliga 18 years ago. He was brilliant that day and he has gone on learning about the game ever since.

---"Afraid" might be too harsh of a word to describe Matthaus, but Germany is indeed struggling and he has every reason to be afraid.
 
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