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Posted on 3 July 2006  - 12:00

Lane legend Steffen Freund talks England, Germany and those dreaded penalties as the World Cup hits the semi-final stage...

Lane legend Steffen Freund talks England, Germany and those dreaded penalties as the World Cup hits the semi-final stage...

The midfielder played 131 times for us between 1999-2003 and was a member of the Germany squad that won Euro 96 in England. He also won the European Cup with Borussia Dortmund.

The fans favourite has been reporting from his home nation throughout the tournament…

I HAVE to start with England. I thought they were the better team against Portugal and certainly didn’t deserve to lose. In my opinion Rooney didn't do enough to receive a red card and once again, we’re talking about penalty shoot-outs and refereeing decisions.

People immediately asked me what was going through our minds when I was part of the German team that went to a penalty shoot-out against England in the semi-finals of Euro 96. We were confident because when you look at history, Germany win shoot-outs and England lose them. Even during games back then and I’m sure now, if it goes to extra time Germany know they will win on penalties. It was the same in the quarter-final against Argentina on Friday.

It must be a mental thing for England. Okay, people say you can practice penalties but no amount of practice can prepare you for that situation in the quarter-finals of the World Cup. I’m afraid to say it will be the same if it happens at the next major tournament as well.

It’s difficult because I think England would have beaten Portugal with 11 men. In fact, I’m 100 per cent positive they would have won. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.

TURNING to Germany and I said before the second round matches that I hoped we would end up playing Argentina in the quarter-finals because if we went on to win that game, we would believe that we could go on and win it. Everything went to plan! There is such a positive feeling here now and everyone believes we can win the World Cup.

My only word of warning is that we now play Italy in the semi-finals on Tuesday and this is a difficult game. In Germany, we like to say if we play England, we will win on penalties – but it’s the opposite with Italy because we can’t seem to beat them in major tournaments! That’s the negative point for us but everything else is positive. It’s a 50-50 situation and I hope we come through.

Here are my thoughts on the semi-finals...

Germany v Italy (Dortmund, Tuesday, 8pm): As I said, everyone is so confident here in Germany but this is a difficult game for us, the hardest possible at this stage. The negatives are that Germany always struggle against Italy in major tournaments, although I remember playing against them in Euro 96 and it ended in a 0-0 draw and I think that knocked them out. We also lost 4-1 to them in a recent friendlies. On the other hand, there are positives for Germany as well. We play in Dortmund and that is a special place for us and we also have the home support. That can make a difference. Italy are defensively strong and confident, they will love to play with a strong defence and try to hit Germany on the counter-attack. They have some fantastic players and they can score goals. That is crucial because I think the first goal could win this game. Germany will go forward but not stupidly so because Italy will take advantage. It’s so tight and I think whoever scores first will win it.

France v Portugal (Munich, Wednesday, 8pm): France are getting better and better and they have to be the favourites for this game. Deco will be the big hope for Portugal and his return gives them more creativity and that gives them a chance because I’m sure they will be more offensive than they were against England. But I think France will win this game. They were strong against Brazil from the first to the last minute and Brazil couldn’t change the game even when they were 1-0 down. France deserved that win and their top players are now hitting top form, the likes of Zidane, Henry, Vieira and Thuram, who is very important in defence. They seem to be more together as a unit and that’s about the feeling of progressing through a tournament.