Germany expected to continue trend

London, May 8 :

Every World Cup host has advanced through the group stage when playing on home soil, and Germany is expected to have no problem maintaining that trend at this year’s tournament.

The Germans were put into Group A before December’s draw to ensure they would play in the country’s three biggest stadiums. And they did just about as well as they could have hoped by getting Poland, Ecuador and Costa Rica as opponents in the first round.

Just reaching the second round won’t be good enough for a team that is searching for its fourth World Cup title, but it may have to suffice if the criticism heaped on the team and its coach is accurate.

Juergen Klinsmann, who helped Germany win its last title in 1990, took over as coach after Rudi Voeller’s disappointing showing at 2004 Euro Championship.

Since then, few believe Germany has developed what it takes to win another title. But playing at home can be a powerful force for a team that has players such as Michael Ballack, Miroslav Klose and Bastian Schweinsteiger. “We want to use the home advantage and want the team to really believe in itself,” Klinsmann said.

At the last World Cup, the Germans didn’t seem to have a chance, either. Still, they ended up reaching the final. After getting through the first round with two easy wins and a draw, Germany beat Paraguay, the US and South Korea in the knockout rounds before losing to Brazil 2-0 in the final.

Another trip to the championship match is possible, of course. But a difficult second-round matchup with England or Sweden also is possible. Germany opens the tournament on June 9 against Costa Rica. Poland faces Ecuador a few hours later. On June 14, Germany takes on Poland. The Poles, who finished third the last time the World Cup was held in Germany in 1974, will be looking for their first win in 15 matches against their European rival.

Ecuador and Costa Rica play on June 15, and the Ecuadoreans face Germany on June 20 in Berlin at the same time Poland meets Costa Rica in Hanover. Two teams will advance from the group; all four consider themselves worthy.

Poland had an awful tournament four years ago, going home after the first round despite a victory over the United States, but coach Pawel Janas sees an opportunity to advance this time.

“I believe that we will at least advance from the group,” Janas said. “But you can’t just talk about that, you have to prepare and show it on the field.” Janas’ biggest asset will be two strikers and tough goalkeepers. Maciej Zurawski and Tomek Frankowski lead an attack that averaged almost three goals a game in qualifiers. And Jerzy Dudek and Artur Boruc will be battling for the job in the net.

Ecuador has been hit with an immigrant trafficking scandal off the field, but coach Luis Fernando Suarez is still expecting a team that finished third in South American qualifying behind Brazil and Argentina to handle any distractions.

“As a minimum we have to get to the second round. After that, a ton of other goals will open up,” Suarez said. Midfielder Edison Mendez and defender Ivan Hurtado will be the key players on a team that has several veterans from the last World Cup.

Costa Rica coach Alexandre Guimaraes will be hoping to catch his rivals off-guard with a crop of youngsters who will join nine veterans from the last tournament, when the Costa Ricans failed to advance to the second round because of goal difference.

The returning players include Paulo Wanchope and defender Ronald Gomez — goal scorers in South Korea and Japan four years ago — and Gilberto Martinez.