Profiles - World Cup Teams - Germany
Germany In the end Germany qualified emphatically for the World Cup finals with a 5-2 demolition of Ukraine in the play-offs.

But their achievement has not masked their real fears that they could have missed out on the World Cup for the first time since 1950.

A goalless draw with Finland following England's 5-1 win in Munich left the troubled triple world champions teetering on the edge of elimination.

Germany being Germany have the potential to improve quickly - but the country has been in a relative soccer decline since winning the 1996 European championship.

Their downfall started immediately after their 2-1 victory over the Czech Republic in the Wembley final and two years later, they disappeared from the World Cup finals in France in the quarter-finals.

Then came Euro 2000 and a shock first-round exit after their worst ever overall performance at a major tournament.

Rudi Voeller, who took over from Erich Ribbeck in the wake of that failure, first restored hope as at the end of August, Germany led their World Cup qualifying group and appeared to be cruising to the finals.

But at the start of September they were crushed 5-1 by England - their worst home defeat in 70 years and only the second time they had lost a World Cup qualifier.

They were given a second chance as England could only draw with Greece, meaning a victory over Finland would still have secured them an automatic ticket to the World Cup.

But they failed again, waking up only after a sluggish first half to waste a handful of great chances before walking off to boos from a frustrated crowd.

'Too stupid for the World Cup,' screamed a headline on the top selling daily Bild the following morning.

'Our national team have no heart, no self-confidence, no courage, no cleverness and no creativity,' said former Germany midfielder Guenter Netzer, now a respected columnist.

Voeller insisted the unimaginable - no World Cup - could be avoided, saying he was persuaded Germany would beat Ukraine to make the 2002 finals through the back door.

But the great Franz Beckenbauer, a symbol for Germany's glorious past as he guided them to World Cup triumphs as a captain in 1974 and as coach in 1990, was far less optimistic.

'We have yet to prove that we are good enough for the World Cup,' said the legendary libero, still the most influential character in German football.

As Germany or West Germany, the team Beckenbauer once graced, only missed two finals in 1930 and 1950. Then, it was politicians and football chiefs, not the players who were to blame.

Coaching Germany is a huge task as the replacements for a brilliant generation of players led by Lothar Matthaeus and Juergen Klinsmann are hard to find.

The fact that Ribbeck controversially called back the ageing Matthaeus for Euro 2000 illustrated the cruel lack of young talent in a country so used to success that it has neglected schooling.

There are young, gifted players around, most notably midfielders Sebastian Deisler and Michael Ballack, but they have so far failed to live up to expectations.

Some observers believe the highest hurdle Germany have to clear is to realise that they are no longer a force to be reckoned with and must totally re-think the way they play football.

Their game, based chiefly on physical challenge, has become archaic and more pace, creativity and technical skills are urgently needed.

It is always dangerous writing off Germany and they could still have a good World Cup. But they are unlikely to have a great one. homepage