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Klinsmann's decision splits Germany

German soccer officials, players and fans were still split on Saturday by coach's decision to name Arsenal's Lehmann and not Munich's Kahn as the national team's World Cup goalkeeper.

india Updated: Apr 09, 2006 09:25 IST

German soccer officials, players and fans were still split on Saturday by coach Juergen Klinsmann's decision to name Arsenal's Jens Lehmann and not Bayern Munich's Oliver Kahn as the national team's World Cup goalkeeper.

Some think Friday's decision to demote one of Germany's most famous players was made when he took the job almost two years ago.

"I don't think Lehmann was surprised because he knew the decision 1 1/2 years ago," Bayern Munich manager Uli Hoeness said.

"We can't be happy by the demolition of one of our best players." Klinsmann stripped Kahn of his captaincy and gave it to midfielder Michael Ballack, then fired national goalkeeper coach Sepp Maier because of his bias for Kahn.

Long-time rival Lothar Matthaeus, Klinsmann's teammate on Germany's 1990 World Cup champions, said the Germany coach's intentions were clear from the start.

"Klinsmann just waited a while, then he struck — just like he always does," Matthaeus said. "You have to take a very close look at what is happening in German soccer since Juergen Klinsmann arrived."

Matthaeus has long been critical of Klinsmann. He lost the German captaincy to Klinsmann for the 1996 European Championship and also wanted the national coaching job before his rival got it.

Almost everyone in Germany seemed to have an opinion on whether Kahn or Lehmann was better, with ample supporters for both 'keepers. "Jens Lehmann is clearly the better goalkeeper at the moment," former Germany 'keeper Uli Stein said.

For many in Germany, Kahn's demotion was the end of an era. During eight years as the No 1, he led the country into the 2002 World Cup final and was twice voted world 'keeper of the year.

"Klinsi kills King Kahn," the Bild daily's front page headline said, while an editorial supported Klinsmann by saying Lehmann was in better form.

However, Franz Beckenbauer, Germany's most influential soccer figure, was among those relieved that a decision would end media speculation.

"It's good for everyone involved that everything is finally clear and settled," Beckenbauer said. "Whether Juergen's (Klinsmann's) choice of Jens Lehmann is right or wrong is something we won't know until after the World Cup."

Klinsmann resisted pressure to name his starter for months, then pulled a surprise with his choice Friday.

Kahn suffered a huge public relations blow last week, making two blunders in Bayern's 2-0 loss to last-place Cologne. Polls afterwards showed a huge swing in public opinion toward Lehmann.

A few days later, German television broadcast a confident-looking Lehmann in Arsenal's 0-0 draw against Juventus that put the English team into the Champions League semifinals. The goalkeeper and his young defense haven't allowed a goal in eight matches in the competition — a competition record.

The Berliner Zeitung, titling their story "Ice-cold decision," said Klinsmann's background as a top forward showed in knowing when to strike.

"With the cleverness of a striker, Klinsmann used the assist of recent events in making Lehmann No. l," the newspaper said. The paper likened Lehmann's strong recent performances for Arsenal to a boxer who knows he has to land some big punches to dethrone the champion.

Klinsmann has enjoyed 60 percent approval ratings from the German public, but was booed by 42,000 at Werder Bremen on Saturday while watching Bayern Munich's 3-0 loss.

For Germany and Borussia Dortmund defender Christoph Metzelder, the debate was blown out of proportion.

"We have two top goalkeepers. That is not our problem," Metzelder said. "This is just diverting attention away from the real problems we have in other parts of our team."