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   June 27, 2002 | 2030 IST


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Kahn's mantra: Keep it simple

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Oliver Kahn has a plain explanation for how the frail teenager with limited skills he once was matured to become the world's most intimidating goalkeeper.

"It's a combination of a lot of hard work and plenty of experience and it's all coming together," the Germany captain said, looking ahead to Sunday's World Cup final with Brazil.

The 33-year-old, whose broad shoulders will carry much of the triple champions' hopes when they clash with Brazil in the Japanese port city of Yokohama, had to endure a frustrating wait before winning universal acclaim.

For years in the shadow of Bodo Illgner, then Andreas Koepke, he was a reserve goalkeeper at the last two World Cup finals and was also on the bench when Germany tasted their last international triumph at Euro 1996.

One of few German players to escape criticism after the shock first round exit from Euro 2000, he was deeply affected by the fact that his first major tournament with the national team was a disaster.

He has kept saying since that Germany did not show their true form then and while many had written them off before the World Cup started, Kahn repeated day after day that the team could restore pride by having a great tournament.

He is certainly making the most of his second chance to shine on the big stage and Germany's goalkeeper coach Sepp Maier, a member of the 1974 World Cup-winning side and one of the finest keepers of all time, admitted he was impressed.

"He is at the peak of his career," Maier said of Kahn, who will win his 53rd cap on Sunday and is already dreaming of playing the next finals in 2006 in Germany.

"In my opinion he is the best player of the tournament."


With Kahn stopping everything thrown at him, Germany have conceded just one goal en route to the big game, matching the record set by the Netherlands before they lost 2-1 to Germany in the 1974 final.

Regarded as average in his learning years, Kahn was obsessed with perfection from an early age and his father, Rolf, still remembers how his son used to wake him up early on Sundays because he wanted to train.

"He had only one goal and that was to become professional," Rolf Kahn, who made the trip to Asia, said of his son.

That aim was achieved in 1990, when he made his Bundesliga debut for his home town club, Karlsruhe SC, but his career really took off after he joined Bayern Munich in 1994.

The following year he won his first cap, in a 2-1 victory over Switzerland in Berne, but not until Koepke retired from international football after the 1998 World Cup in France did he become the undisputed number one.

Not unlike Peter Schmeichel with the same massive frame and shock of blond hair, Kahn, who hardly ever smiles even when he cracks a joke, replaced the former Manchester United and Denmark great as arguably the world's best goalkeeper with a fantastic season with Bayern last year.

Three saves in the shoot-out that gave the Munich club their Champions League final victory over Valencia crowned a memorable campaign in which he also helped his team win yet another German title.

For years a discreet family man off the pitch, Kahn, who married his longtime girlfriend Simone in 1999 and is devoted to their three-year-old daughter, Katharina-Maria, then started to change.


Wearing designer clothes and sporting a fancy haircut, he appeared frequently in television shows and advertised everything from mineral water to washing machines. He also bought a Ferrari.

A keen golfer, he never leaves his mobile phone behind to keep track of his options on the stock market.

"I think he's lost it a bit," Borussia Dortmund midfielder Andreas Moeller said a few months ago of a player who earns five million euros a year according to reports in the German media.

The Dortmund players are not Kahn's biggest fans as it was against two of them that his tendency to over-react under pressure won him unwanted headlines.

His own team mates have also experienced his outbursts as he once shoved Andreas Herzog out of the penalty area after a defensive blunder from the Austrian international.

But nobody is blaming him now that he has become the inspiration behind Germany's much-awaited revival and a symbol for their recaptured winning spirit.

"He is making himself immortal at this tournament," said Maier.

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