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The Rediff Special/Erik Kirschbaum
Klinsmann uses mind games to push his team
June 29, 2006
With the help of a team psychologist, Germany coach Juergen Klinsmann has been tapping into a vein of national euphoria for short but potent doses to get the best from his World Cup players.
Klinsmann and his players have described in recent days the way they steer clear of the patriotic fervour swirling throughout Germany until just hours before matches -- and then soak up as much of the national frenzy as they can.
"It's important that we don't get complacent in the days between matches and start thinking things like 'we've played a great tournament' and everyone's praising us, even the foreign press is raving about us so that's good enough for us now," defender Christoph Metzelder said in an interview with Reuters.
"That's not enough for us. We've got to stay hungry and blank out everything going on out in the country between matches," he added after one particularly gruelling training session before Friday's quarter-final match against Argentina.
The workout was held on a pitch miles away from the public. A few dozen journalists who made it past three road blocks and various security checks were the only witnesses to the session in a small venue behind the Olympiastadion World Cup venue.
"And then right before we go to the stadium on match days we open ourselves up to all that enthusiasm buzzing around and soak up as much of the atmosphere as we can," added Metzelder.
"We look at film highlights, get pumped listening to music and let the crowds fire us up even more. They've been just unbelievable. We've been able to absorb all the euphoria and use it to our advantage. It's made us better in every match."
Klinsmann has put an emphasis on the mental aspects of the game ever since he took charge two years ago -- when Germany were in a deep crisis after Rudi Voeller quit and two other candidates offered the job turned it down.
One of Klinsmann's first acts was to appoint a team psychologist, Hans-Dieter Hermann from Heidelberg University, to help his players deal with the pressures of playing at the highest level and get top performances out of his men.
It was, like many of Klinsmann's moves, controversial at first when Hermann became the first psychologist on the payroll in the German soccer association's history.
But it seems to be paying off now.
Klinsmann also put the team in an isolated hotel in a quiet, leafy corner of Berlin. Fans get nowhere near the luxury hotel cordoned off from the public. Klinsmann also picked Berlin for psychological reasons -- the final will be here on July 9.
"From the first matches we've sensed this growing wave of enthusiasm out there in the rest of the country," said assistant coach Joachim Loew at a news conference on Wednesday.
"We sense that intensively before the match, the euphoria and excitement," he added. "We use the film highlights to get the players going emotionally. We're trying to think up a possible trick or two for Friday."
Before the first knockout round match against Sweden, Klinsmann abruptly switched from being a friendly, supportive, understanding type of coach into a cold, demanding task-master.
He suddenly raised the pressure on his team, demanding victory against Sweden one day before the match and warning darkly it would be a "disaster" for a Germany team to exit before the semi-final.
The trick worked. Germany played their best match in years and easily won 2-0 after two goals in the first 12 minutes.
"I think it was hard for Sweden to react after the two early goals," Klinsmann said in Munich after the match. "They must have been hit hard mentally by that."More Specials