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No Keane? No Problem

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Match: Ireland vs. Germany (Group E)

Date: June 5

Venue: Kashima Soccer Stadium, Ibaraki (cap. 42,000)

TV: Ch. 41 (Univision), Ch. 29 (ESPN2) live at 7:25 a.m. EST

By Jay Mwamba

Ireland and a German side that is relieved at the likelihood of not having to face Roy Keane will meet for the first time ever in the World Cup finals when they clash in Ibaraki next Wednesday.

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The two countries, however, are by no means strangers at the international level. This will be the 16th meeting between the two since their first encounter. in Dortmund on May 5, 1935.

Ireland lost 3-1 on that occasion, but in what could be an indicator of things to come next week, the record shows that the Republic has remarkably held its own against the three-time World champions, winning six of the 15 previous meetings, losing seven and tying two.

Ireland is undefeated against the Germans in the two matches played after the Republic’s Jack Charlton-inspired renaissance in the mid-1980s. They came away from Hanover with a 2-0 victory in their last tussle on the eve of USA ’94.

But game No. 16 could be the most important one ever played between the two troubled teams, who have both been weakened considerably, albeit by varying circumstances. The winners could top Group E.

At full strength, both would have been guaranteed of testing each to the limit and possibly warming up for a protracted campaign in the finals.

Injury, however, has left German coach Rudi Voeller, a member of Berti Vogts’s side beaten eight years ago in Hanover, with a depleted side, while the expulsion of the tempestuous Roy Keane has undoubtedly reduced Ireland’s capabilities to a good degree.

Voeller’s biggest losses are Sebastian Deisler, the 22-year-old midfielder heralded as Germany’s next big star; Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jorg Heinrich; talented Bayern Munich attacking midfielder Mehmet Scholl; central defender Jens Nowotny; and defender Christian Worns.

Given the potential damage done to his squad’s World Cup hopes by the absence of such enormous talent, it’s not surprising then that Voeller sighed with relief when he heard of Keane’s ejection.

“Ireland has been left weakened and vulnerable,” he stated.

Even then, Ireland, regardless of the outcome of their opener with Cameroon, should look the stronger of the two teams, if not on overall experience and recent achievement only.

While the 3-0 shellacking by Croatia in the quarterfinals of France ’98 signaled the start of a German decline that was climaxed by England’s 5-1 blitz in Munich last September, Ireland’s stock has risen tremendously in the last two years.

Sans Keano, the same pool of players that got the Republic to the finals from the toughest group of the World Cup qualifying competition are in Japan.

Mick McCarthy is nonetheless, reluctant to write off the Germans despite their health problems and recent 1-0 losses to Argentina and Wales, the latter only two weeks ago.

McCarthy even claims that it is the Germans that he’s most wary about in Group E.

For good reason, too, since Germany can still count on several players who are not hopping about. Starting at the back there’s Bayern Munich goalie Oliver Kahn, who is widely regarded as the best in the world.

Defensively, Voeller has no one to make rising ace Damien Duff, Robbie Keane or Jason McAteer shudder, and this is where the Germans’ may be most vulnerable themselves.

The only player at the back with any significant international experience is center-half Thomas Linke from Bayern’s Champions League campaigns.

In midfield, the clashes should have a touch of English Premier League to them as Voeller’s key linkmen, Tottenham Hotspur’s Christian Ziege and Liverpool dynamo Dietmar Hamann face the likes of Mark Kinsella of Charlton, Sunderlands Kevin Kilbane and Matt Holland of relegated Ipswich.

Germany’s other midfielder of note and the one standout from their disappointing France ’98 campaign is Bayern’s Jens Jeremies, who might have relished doing battle with Roy Keane.

It is in attack, however, where Germany is strongest, as evidenced by their blowouts over the likes of Isr’l (7-1), USA (4-2), Kuwait (7-0) and Austria (6-2).

The men to watch in this department are Oliver Neuville, a nippy, sharpshooting forward, and his 25-year-old Bayer Leverkusen compatriot, Michael Ballack, who although listed as a midfielder, is as potent an offensive threat as you can find in the finals.

The duo, together with Kaiserslautern’s Miroslav Klose, who bagged a hat trick against Austria, will provide a stern test for the Irish defense. The German forwards are likely to pose a much more different challenge to Steve Staunton’s rearguard than the Cameroonian attack, with the latter’s sometimes poor finishing.

In reserve, Voeller will be able to call on the veteran striker Oliver Bierhoff, who came off the bench at Euro ’96 to win the final for Germany in extra time; as well as the powerful Ghanaian-born Schalke 04 forward Gerald Asamoah.

McCarthy sees Group E as a fairly even group, with no one team among the contenders far better the others.

He predicts a scenario where each team takes points off the other. The could be the case in Ibaraki, even though only two of the previous 15 Ireland-Germany matches have ended in a draw.

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