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Thursday, 27 June, 2002, 16:29 GMT 17:29 UK
How did they do that?
Kahn has been inspirational as Germany's captain
Kahn has been the tournament's best goalkeeper

Its a cliché but it's true - never write off the Germans.

Just last September Germany goalkeeper Oliver Kahn punched the Munich turf in frustration as another goal flew past him during his team's 5-1 thrashing at the hands of England.

Few watching that game would have believed that nine months later the same man would be leading his team out for the World Cup final.

But on Sunday Germany's captain will be doing just that as his team enter the International Stadium in Yokohama to play their first World Cup meeting against Brazil.

It will be Germany's seventh final - and perhaps their unlikeliest.

Germany have overcome serious injury problems
Deisler is one of several key German players not at the World Cup

Rudi Voeller's team started the tournament with modest expectations, telling all who would listen that the real goal was preparing a team capable of winning the 2006 World Cup.

After all, Germany had to defeat Ukraine in a play-off match to secure their passage to the Far East.

And Voeller's World Cup squad is missing several key players.

Playmaker Sebastian Deisler, key defender Jens Nowotny and Christian Worns all sustained injuries that precluded their participation in Korea and Japan.

Midfielder Memhet Scholl opted against travelling to the World Cup after an injury-plagued season and even after Germany arrived the problems did not stop, with Joerg Boehme sent home suffering from a torn muscle.

So how have Germany reached the final?

It was crucial that Voeller's team got off to a flying start to bolster the self-belief of a team rated as no more than an outside chance.

They did just that, thrashing Saudi Arabia 8-0 in their opening game, recording their highest ever World Cup win.

Solid defence

Voeller's team conceded a last-minute equaliser in their next match, against the Republic of Ireland, but it remains the only goal scored against them.

This defensive solidity has been fundamental to their success.

While defensive lapses cost England against Brazil and both Italy and Spain against South Korea, Germany have remained efficiently resolute.

The may lack defensive players with the attacking panache of Andreas Brehme but they have a solid back four and a superb midfield protector in Dietmar Hamann.

Time and again Hamann has terminated opposition attacks in their infancy and eased the pressure on his defence.

Klose has scored five goals so far
Ballack (left) and Klose have been in top form
And then there is Kahn - unquestionably the goalkeeper of the tournament.

He is arguably Germany's only truly world-class player and he has pulled off a string of key saves.

Add into the mix the tournament's goalscoring surprise package Miroslav Klose - who remains in the hunt for the Golden Boot with five goals - and the form of Michael Ballack and it is clear an average team has collectively peaked at the right time.

Mental strength

Franz Beckenbaeuer has been constantly scathing about the current side - arguing they lack real quality and are a pale imitation of previous vintages.

But he has been quick to argue that the mental strength of the German team has been crucial.

Traditionally a superb tournament team, Germany have not cracked under pressure but gone about their business with professional determination.

Unlike Italy and Spain, they held their nerve in front of South Korea's fanatical home crowd.

Voeller
Voeller has shrewdly under-played his team's chances
Ballack remained composed enough to score the winner against South Korea just minutes after receiving the booking that will keep him out of the final.

No shades of Gazza from the German.

And then there is the draw.

England navigated their way through the group of death before colliding with Brazil in the quarter-final.

Germany won a group comprising Cameroon, the Republic of Ireland and Saudi Arabia.

Not bad but nothing to boast about.

And in the knock-out stages they have just done enough to defeat Paraguay, the USA and South Korea - hardly footballing super powers.

Throw in a handy slice of luck at the right time - the late winner against Paraguay and Torsten Frings unnoticed handball against the USA - and once again Germany are preparing to play in football's biggest match.

Whether these factors will be enough to repel the irresistible R's - Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho - is another question entirely.

On Sunday Germany will come face to face with the first genuinely class team they have faced.

The Brazil team of 2002 is not thought to be the equal of previous incarnations - but they might prove too much for Voeller's boys.


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GERMANY 3 +10 7
IRELAND 3 +3 5
CAMEROON 3 -1 4
SAUDI ARABIA 3 -12 0

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