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Germany Is No Sleeping Giant

Semifinal: Three-time world champion knows it can't take co-host South Korea for granted in Tuesday's game.

June 24, 2002|GRAHAME L. JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SEOUL — South Korea is not going to catch Germany napping when the two countries meet Tuesday in the semifinals of the World Cup.

There's no chance of that, in fact, because Coach Rudi Voeller's team has some experience when it comes to staying awake.

On their way to the tournament, Germany's players had to endure a sleepless night after Voeller ordered them not to nod off during the 12-hour flight from Frankfurt to Tokyo.

The idea was to combat jet lag and adjust as quickly as possible to the time difference between Europe and Asia. Apparently, it worked because Germany is unbeaten after five games and has given up only one goal.

Now, only the co-host stands between the Germans and a place in Sunday's final. South Korea also is unbeaten and has gathered momentum as the tournament has progressed. Its players are ready to defy the odds and defeat their fourth European opponent in three weeks.

"They have an incredible collective strength and also several dangerous individuals," said Germany goalkeeper and captain Oliver Kahn, who shut out the United States in the quarterfinals. "They have knocked out Portugal, Italy and Spain, which says it all.

"They will run until they drop and we have to be ready for a marathon. But we will win this match."

South Korea, as usual, will have the entire country behind it and Seoul World Cup Stadium will be the now customary sea of red. Kahn isn't worried about that either.

"It's emotionally very strong," he said. "I can't wait to be in that stadium."

Germany, whose World Cup chances were dismissed by its own fans and the media before it left for the tournament, has not exactly sparkled since the first round ended. It struggled to overcome Paraguay, 1-0, in the second round and made very hard work of beating the U.S. by the same score in Friday's quarterfinals.

"We were the favorites and we were expected to win [those matches], which increased the pressure weighing on us," explained Michael Skibbe, Germany's assistant coach.

"This time we play a team that has knocked out three great European nations ... and we're the outsiders. That could help."

Skibbe said that Germany expects South Korea's players to adopt the same tactics they have used throughout the tournament.

"They know only one direction, which is the way forward," he said. "They never stop running and don't look tired at all even after having played extra time twice."

Coach Guus Hiddink's team had to last two hours before advancing past Spain on penalty kicks in the quarterfinals Saturday. Before that, it played 117 minutes against Italy before Ahn Jung-Hwan scored the winning goal on a header when he beat veteran defender Paolo Maldini to the ball.

Hiddink, who has the rare distinction of having taken different countries to the semifinals in successive World Cups--having guided the Netherlands there in 1998--said South Korea will not alter its style this late in the day.

"We will approach the next match against Germany like, once more, a bunch of young dogs," he said, his Dutch accent and the Korean translation perhaps having led to something being mislaid along the way.

"We have gone so far and have nothing to lose and we will play the way we like to play."

Korea has the speed and skill necessary to cause Germany problems. Voeller will have to hope that Kahn maintains the form that has seen him beaten only once--on an injury-time goal by Ireland's Robbie Keane--in more than 450 minutes at this World Cup.

Germany has the strength and aerial power to take advantage of South Korea's lack of height, especially that of goalkeeper Lee Woon-Jae. The Korean defense, like the U.S. defense before it, can expect to see a lot of high balls knocked into the box and headers flying in from all angles.

Having seen refereeing decisions go against South Korea's last three opponents, Portugal, Italy and Spain, Germany's players are being prepared not to overreact if they encounter a similar situation Tuesday night.

"We may have one or two refereeing decisions against us," Kahn said. "That's normal. It's called home advantage. If it happens, we must not let it demoralize us. If we have a goal disallowed, we must concentrate on scoring another one."

That might be easier said than done for a team whose forwards have managed only one goal a game in the last three outings.

Michael Ballack, who scored the goal that sank the U.S., has been stung by criticism of Germany's play and dismisses talk of the forwards being unproductive.

"The only thing that counts in football is the result," he said, "and so far the results have gone our way. We are in the semifinals, which very few people had expected, and that's a great success.

"You can't say we were lucky to win any of our matches. Of course we would like to play good football, but if we keep winning, I'll be happy."

So what were Ballack and the rest of Germany's players doing during that long and sleepless flight from Frankfurt?

"I was daydreaming about the World Cup final," winger Christian Ziege said.

If Germany can get past South Korea, he can wake up. It will be a dream no more.

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