Buried just beneath the surface of the playing field at Westfalen Stadium in Dortmund, Germany, is a one pfennig coin. It was placed there earlier this week by superstitious journalists from Bild, a popular German daily.
The same journalists hid a coin in the turf at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev, Ukraine, last week and were rewarded by seeing Germany come from behind to earn a 1-1 tie against Ukraine in the first leg of their World Cup 2002 qualifying playoff.
Tonight, Germany is at home against Ukraine in the decisive second leg, one of eight all-important matches being played in Europe, the Middle East and South America. Only seven places remain up for grabs in the race to reach Korea/Japan 2002 and six of them will be claimed tonight.
The scenario at a glance:
* In Dortmund, three-time World Cup winner Germany has a slight advantage over Ukraine on the strength of its away goal in the first game. It needs only a 0-0 tie to reach the May 31-June 30 tournament.
"The first leg was only a skirmish compared to what's ahead of us," German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn said. "It's all or nothing now. We have every reason to be nervous."
* In Sao Luis, Brazil, four-time World Cup winner Brazil can keep alive its unique streak of taking part in every World Cup if it defeats Venezuela.
A loss, however, could force Brazil into a two-game playoff with Australia for the 32nd and final World Cup berth.
"Beating Brazil is a dream we have had since we were children," Venezuela Coach Richard Paez said. "We are going to try to give Brazil the fright of their lives. We have enough heart and ability to rattle the foundations of Brazilian football."
* In Tehran, a crowd of more than 100,000 men--women have been banned from attending--will pack Azadi Stadium to see if Iran can overcome Ireland's 2-0 lead from the first leg in Dublin.
"It's a place in the World Cup that's at stake and that does make a difference," Ireland Coach Mick McCarthy said. "You find me a player who can go out there with ice-cold water in his veins and not be affected by it."
* In Bucharest, Romania, Gheorghe Hagi, former World Cup star and now coach, is desperate for a 1-0 victory that would be enough for Romania to overturn Slovenia's 2-1 win in the first match.
"We need a goal and it's not important when we get it," Hagi said. "I would settle for 1-0 in the last minute. I don't care how we win, I just hope we win."
* In Montevideo, Uruguay, the home team will be praying for at least a tie against World Cup favorite Argentina. If Uruguay loses, it can be eliminated if Colombia beats Paraguay.
* In Asuncion, Paraguay, the only option for Colombia is to beat already-qualified Paraguay and hope that Uruguay stumbles against Argentina.
That would earn Colombia the playoff spot against Australia.
* In Prague, Czech Republic, flu has laid low four Czech starters and further complicated the Czechs' chances of canceling out Belgium's 1-0 lead from the first leg. The home team will also be without experienced defender Tomas Repka, who was suspended because of a dangerous tackle in the first game.
"The chances now are not balanced at 50-50," Czech Coach Jozef Chovanec said.
* In Istanbul, Turkey, the celebrations are likely to be long and loud if the Turks qualify for their first World Cup in 48 years. They defeated Austria, 1-0, in Vienna and should do so again tonight.
"My players know that the Turks were not better than us in Vienna," Austria Coach Otto Baric said hopefully.
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Thirty-two nations will take part in the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea. So far, the following 25 have qualified:
Cameroon, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tunisia
China, Japan (as co-host), Saudi Arabia, South Korea (as co-host)
Costa Rica, Mexico, United States
Croatia, Denmark, England, France (as defending champion), Italy, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden
Argentina, Ecuador, Paraguay
Venezuela at Brazil
Belgium at Czech Republic
Ukraine at Germany
Ireland at Iran
Colombia at Paraguay
Slovenia at Romania
Austria at Turkey
Argentina at Uruguay
Note: Australia will face South America's fifth-place finisher--either Brazil, Colombia or Uruguay--in a two-game, home-and-home playoff Nov. 20 and 25 for the final World Cup berth.