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   June 19, 2002 | 1930 IST


Umit Davala
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Germany stage remarkable comeback

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Harmony and pride are the two main reasons for Germany's speedy recovery from their worst crisis, one of many surprises in a World Cup of upsets.

"We all stand closely together and we all share the same dream," Germany captain Oliver Kahn said as the triple world champions were warming up for Friday's quarter-final against the United States.

The troubled heavyweights had entered the tournament with lower expectations than usual, coach Rudi Voeller naming the knock-out stages as their minimal aim after they struggled to qualify and then lost a handful of valued players through injury.

Polls kept showing that many fans in the soccer-mad nation feared another early exit after the team disappeared from the last two World Cups in the quarter-finals and made an embarrassing departure after the first round of Euro 2000.

"Many players in the team were at Euro 2000 and were eager to show that it was not the real Germany then," said goalkeeper Kahn.

"There are also several players who will never play a World Cup again and want to make the most of it. That's a great motivation."

Just as that famous Gary Lineker phrase about football being a game between two teams over 90 minutes which the Germans win at the end no longer seemed to apply, the traditional powerhouse recaptured their winning ways and are now dreaming aloud of making the Yokohama final on June 30.

"That's what we all want and we all believe we can make it," said midfielder Jens Jeremies, who had made unwanted headlines by describing the state of the national team as "miserable" in the build-up to Euro 2000.

Germany's run so far strongly suggests that they are a merciless winning machine again, like in the good old days.

First came a record-breaking 8-0 demolition of Saudi Arabia, followed with a 1-1 draw with a battling Ireland side.

Then they fought with 10 men for a brave 2-0 win over Cameroon before proving they could also win ugly like in the past with a sluggish performance for a 1-0 victory over Paraguay in the second round.

Few observers had expected such a campaign after Germany reached a depressing low with a 5-1 thrashing by old rivals England last September in Munich -- their worst home defeat in 70 years and only their second in a World Cup qualifier.


But that defeat and the dismal draw with Finland that followed left them facing playoffs against Ukraine which proved to be the turning point.

At risk of failing to qualify for a World Cup for the first time, Germany salvaged a 1-1 draw in Kiev before sealing victory with a brilliant 4-1 win in the return leg in Dortmund.

"The pressure we had to bear was enormous and the fact that we were able to cope with it brought the players closely together," said coach Rudi Voeller. "I think it has made us stronger."

Unity has ruled since and the internal squabbling that hampered Germany at previous major tournaments has been absent so far, as striker Oliver Neuville noted.

"I've never seen such a good atmosphere in my entire career," he said. "After the Ireland game we all went out for dinner and nobody wanted to leave. We were just happy to be together."

Team spirit alone does not win matches and the contribution of Miroslav Klose, the tournament's revelation with five goals so far, has been crucial.

Voeller, who had no coaching experience when he took charge two years but was immediately accepted because of his pedigree and calm authority, also played a decisive role with several clever training moves.

"The coach has done everything right," playmaker Michael Ballack said of the popular former World Cup striker.

Having no genuine world class player except Ballack at the heart of their team and no true leader has not stopped Germany from surviving while several teams blessed with more talent are already home.

"The best team do not always win the World Cup," said Voeller, hinting Germany's long-awaited revival might take them all the way to a fourth title.

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