WORLD CUP: Germany-based stars ready to shine

Berlin, May 13:

For most footballers, the World Cup used to mean a summer voyage to strange and distant lands. But for nearly 40 foreign players plying their trade in Germany, the tournament this year is coming to their doorstep.

The German top-flight has been flooded with foreign imports since the Bosman ruling in 1995 and 20 of the 32 competing nations at the finals will have a player already based in Germany. South America, Asia, Europe and Africa are all represented and German champions Bayern Munich can boast 12 players who will represent seven different nations at the FIFA World Cup.

England international midfielder Owen Hargreaves is one of Bayern’s foreign stars and faces the prospect of lining up against two club team-mates in Paraguay international pair Roque Santa Cruz and Julio Dos Santos. England face Paraguay in their opening Group B match on June 10 in Frankfurt. Paraguay are outsiders but leading striker Santa Cruz hopes his

team can finish above England or Sweden to progress.

“Paraguay gained a lot of experience at the last World Cup and I think we can do better this time around,” Santa Cruz said. “We aim to get past the first group stage and then anything can happen,” he added. Iran are another nation hoping to pull of a surprise and can call on the experience of three Bundesliga-based players for the German finals. Bayern’s Iranian playmaker Ali Karimi, dubbed ‘the Asian Maradona’, is joined by Hannover striker Vahid Hashemian and SV Hamburg midfielder Mehdi Mahdavikia.

Iran are grouped with Portugal, Mexico and Angola in Group D. Hamburg also have Naohiro

Takahara on their books and the Japanese international striker will be looking forward to

these finals even more having missed the last tournament in his homeland through injury.

South Korean forward Ahn Jung-hwan, now playing for MSV Duisburg, was one of the heroes at the 2002 World Cup scoring the golden goal to eliminate Italy 2-1 in the second round match. Ahn, a pin-up in his homeland having married a former Miss South Korea, was sacked on returning to Serie A club Perugia after the finals as the Italian club showed their frustration.

“I can’t imagine Duisburg telling me to leave if I score against Germany at the World Cup,” said Ahn. “What happened in Perugia was a one-off.” The Bundesliga will be well represented in the colours of champions Brazil. Bayer Leverkusen defenders Juan and Roque Junior are joined by Bayern duo Lucio and Ze Roberto who started their careers at Leverkusen.

Hertha Berlin utility man Gilberto is the other Brazilian star based in Germany.

For Lucio and Ze Roberto this World Cup offers them the unique chance to represent their country on their home ground. Holders Brazil face Australia in their Group F match in Munich on June 18.

“The fact that the finals are in Germany makes this World Cup that extra bit special for me,” Lucio said. “Playing in Munich for my country will be something I may never experience again and I am really looking forward to it.”

Borussia Dortmund’s Poland international forward Ebi Smolarek will also play on his home ground at the finals when Germany host Poland in Dortmund on June 14. Dortmund have two other prominent World Cup players on their books in Czech international pair Tomas Rosicky and Jan Koller. Koller is his country’s best ever goalscorer with 44 goals in 66 internationals.