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WORLD CUP QUARTERFINALS UNITED STATES VS. GERMANY

Hitting the Big Time

Looking for another upset, Americans say their speed will be equalizer against Germany's size

June 20, 2002|GRAHAME L. JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SEOUL — Could Shaq come to the rescue? Is Kobe available? Would Phil Jackson accept a collect call from Bruce Arena?

It's reality time for the U.S. World Cup team, which plays three-time world champion Germany on Friday night in the quarterfinals of international soccer's showcase event.

Taking on Germany is an intimidating prospect in the best of times, and Arena would like some help.

"We're not going to be able to match up physically with the Germans around the field," he said Wednesday. "That's impossible. We'd have to go back to the U.S. and get the Lakers to come here and play for us.

"We don't have that kind of size. That's a big team. They're probably as big as any team in the tournament, and we're not going to get any taller or any thicker overnight, we know that.

"So we're going to have to make up for it with a little bit of quickness and some brains."

That's what Friday's game in the South Korean city of Ulsan will come down to: American speed and execution versus German brawn and know-how. On the surface, it's no match, but if this World Cup has been characterized by anything, it's that surface impressions are merely an illusion.

Ask the players from Argentina, France, Italy and Portugal if they thought they would be watching on TV from home right now. Upsets have become almost commonplace and one more would not be that shocking.

Is there a chance the Americans could win? Certainly.

"They pull on their pants and their socks the same way we do," midfielder Earnie Stewart said Wednesday. "They're big, and when they get corner kicks they come up with their air force and it does make it a little more difficult.

"But on the other hand, big players are usually a little slower, so it works both ways. You've got to look at the negatives and positives and try to mix it."

Forward Brian McBride, who has scored against Portugal and Mexico in this tournament, said the challenge facing the U.S. is formidable.

"It's not going to be an easy task, we know that," he said Wednesday. "We have to come prepared.

"They're big, physical guys. We definitely have to make sure that we have possession of the ball. Probably the biggest factor is going to be making sure that they don't have time and space to serve balls.

"They're a great team. They got here by playing good soccer, so I don't think we're going to take any part of their game lightly."

The battle probably will be won and lost in midfield, which should be quite crowded because both teams favor a 3-5-2 formation.

The U.S. is expected to field a starting lineup very similar to the one that defeated Mexico, with two possible exceptions.

Eddie Lewis probably will lose his place in left midfield because his main strength--the ability to cross the ball into the box--is negated by the prowess of German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn and the height and aerial strength of the German defensive trio of Christoph Metzelder, Carsten Ramelow and Thomas Linke.

That means DaMarcus Beasley will regain his spot. His speed and dribbling ability are viewed as something that could unlock the German defense, provided the diminutive Beasley is nimble enough to avoid the crunching, lunging, scything tackles that will be aimed his way.

The other change probably will be made up front, where Clint Mathis is expected to replace Josh Wolff.

Mathis scored twice in a 4-2 loss to Germany in Rostock, Germany, in March and has the incentive of once again wanting to catch the eye of German club teams.

The belief in the American camp is that Germany is vulnerable to speed.

"We hope so," Stewart said. "Pretty much they're big players, and you hope, as a small player, to get around them."

The U.S. played Germany in the first round of the 1998 World Cup in France and lost, 2-0, in Paris. The story of that game was the way the Germans outmuscled the Americans, and the same could be true this time.

The problem is especially acute for the U.S. back line of Tony Sanneh, Eddie Pope and, most likely, Gregg Berhalter, although Carlos Llamosa is a possible starter. The chosen three somehow will have to contain a German team that has only one starter under 6 feet, winger Bernd Schneider, who is 5-10.

Germany Coach Rudi Voeller has a quartet of powerful strikers to turn loose against the U.S., with tournament co-leading scorer Miroslav Klose and the 6-5 Carsten Jancker his most likely starters. Voeller also can call Marco Bode and Oliver Bierhoff off the bench if the first two fail.

"If the Germans field Klose and Jancker, they're a handful in front of the goal," Arena said. "Jancker is probably three or four inches taller than Klose and a dangerous guy.

"Klose has been outstanding. He's not as big, but his timing and technique in front of the goal are excellent and that's a concern to our defenders."

Said McBride: "They play a brand of soccer that, when they're on, they do what they did to the Saudis [an 8-0 victory in their first game]. We've just got to make sure that we put them off their game."

Stewart concurred.

"They're a good team," he said. "They always say they're lucky, but that's not luck anymore."

Sanneh, who plays in Germany for FC Nuremberg, said the task confronting the U.S. is not impossible.

"I think to beat the Germans there are two ways you can do it," he said Wednesday.

"One, you can keep the ball away from them, but they're physical and they're going to get into you. If you start beating them, they're going to foul you.

"Or you have to be able to match up with them well physically. You can't back down from them and you can't give them time. They used to be faster and stronger than everybody, but now I think if you pressure them you can put them in tight spots. They're not as good as Mexico with the ball. They're not going to be able to pass it under real pressure."

All the same, Arena's idea still seems best. Just call the Lakers.

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