Ugly German goalie row eclipses win over Iran

BERLIN: Germany celebrated their 2-0 victory over Iran on an overnight flight from Tehran yesterday but arrived home with a mean hangover because of a raging goalkeeper controversy. 

A brilliant performance by Jens Lehmann backed up the Arsenal goalkeeper’s statements he should replace Bayern Munich’s Oliver Kahn as first choice by the 2006 World Cup. 

Kahn, the hero of Germany’s improbable advance to the 2002 final against Brazil, watched the Iran match on television after new coach Juergen Klinsmann gave Lehmann a chance to audition. 

“It’s a fortunate problem to have – two world class goalkeepers,” Klinsmann said in Germany before boarding a flight to his home in California after firing a Lehmann critic, goalkeeper coach Sepp Maier. 

Abandoning predecessor Rudi Voeller’s loyalty to Kahn despite some shaky performances, Klinsmann stripped Kahn of the captaincy and then said Lehmann had an equal shot. 

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN: Germany’s Bernd Schneider (right) and Iran’s Hossein Kabei fight for the ball during theirfriendly match at the Azadi (Freedom) Stadium in Tehran on Saturday. Germany won 2-0, courtesy of goals by FabianErnst and Thomas Brdaric. – APpic

But Klinsmann’s plan to let the two battle it out until making a decision shortly before the 2006 World Cup Finals Germany is causing a host of problems. 

Kahn hinted either he or Lehmann would have to go, a view shared by Maier, who was fired by Klinsmann yesterday. 

Maier, who has doubled as coach for Germany and Bayern since 1988, was sacked for speaking out against Lehmann before the match, two months after Klinsmann rebuked him for similar remarks. 

After Lehmann said Maier was a “lobbyist” for Kahn, the retired West Germany goalkeeper had shot back that Lehmann should forget about 2006 because Kahn was the better goalkeeper. 

“We registered everything that was said and made this decision in the best interest of the team,” said Klinsmann yesterday. 

“The race between Kahn and Lehmann will stay open until the World Cup in 2006,” he added. “Lehmann was superb. He’s a world class goalie and used his chance. It’s no coincidence that Arsenal have been unbeaten for so long.” 

Germany’s ZDF television reported that Klinsmann would replace Maier with Andreas Koepke, a teammate from the 1996 European champions. 

Fans have picked up the public squabble. A survey by Bild newspaper found 51% believe Kahn should be dropped while 18% feel Lehmann should be. Another 31% said there was room for both. 

“The goalie theatre is gradually spinning out of control,” said Franz Beckenbauer, a former coach and captain now heading Germany’s 2006 organising committee. 

“It started under Erich Ribbeck, continued under Voeller and is now getting worse under Klinsmann.  

“It’s beginning to poison the atmosphere.” 

Lehmann, 34, who has 20 caps compared to 35-year-old Kahn’s 74, was sensational against Iran, stopping at least two would-be goals late in the first half to preserve Germany’s 1-0 lead. 

“Titan Lehmann saves the victory,” wrote Bild am Sonntag newspaper on its front page. 

“Lehmann scores points in his bout with Kahn,” wrote Bild columnist Walter M. Stratten.  

“He was not only flawless but held a number of unstoppable shots.” 

The Welt am Sonntag said Lehmann was the key on Saturday. 

“Germany can thank Lehmann for the sensational saves,” it wrote. 

“Lehmann, who said this week he was Germany’s best goalkeeper, backed up that talk with his performance against Iran,” added Berlin’s Der Tagesspiegel daily. – Reuters 

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