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Europe

Breaking German Football's Color Barrier

A year after his debut performance for the German national team, Gerald Asamoah is on the brink of yet another entry in the annals of football folklore.

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Gerald Asamoah, born in Ghana, will be the first black player on the German World Cup team

Although the German national team and supporters alike are resigned to the fact that a fourth World Cup title is beyond them this time around, history is still likely to be made in Japan and Korea this year.

Ghana-born Gerald Asamoah will become the first black player to take part in a major international tournament as part of a unified German team if he takes to the field in the Far East over the coming weeks.

The 22-year-old Schalke 04 attacking midfielder has already become the most dramatic character in coach Rudi Völler's current revolution with his increasingly accepted presence in the national squad.

Asamoah is not the first black player to represent a German side, however. Two black players, the sons of US soldiers, turned out for West Germany in the 1970s, though their appearance was less well received.

Debut goal endeared Ghanian to German hearts

Germany has traditionally had one of the worst reputations in Europe for far-right influence amongst its fans but after Asamoah's debut appearance and consequent first goal for the national side in the 2-0 friendly international win over Slovakia last May, German newspapers were gushing with praise.

"Asamoah wakes up a tired Germany," proclaimed the mass-circulation Bild newspaper.

In acknowledgment of his extraordinary contribution in that historic game, the 20,000-strong crowd in Bremen's Weserstadion gave Asamoah a standing ovation when he took a lap of honour before leaving the field following a second-half substitution.

The player himself was emotional after the game.

"I thank God that my dream has come true," he told reporters. "It shows that I made the right decision to opt for Germany. It's an honour to play for this country."

Each game a matter of life and death

That night and the subsequent appearances for the German team that have culminated in his inclusion in the current World Cup squad cap an amazing rise to prominence for a player who was once told by doctors to stop playing football for fear of suffering a heart attack.

He collapsed after a second division game in November 1998 while playing for Hannover 96 and was diagnosed with a dangerous heart condition, similar to that of Arsenal's Nigerian striker Nwanko Kanu. Asamoah now plays at his own risk and team doctors have emergency equipment on the sidelines just in case.

The 22-year-old who moved to Germany 12 years ago took German citizenship last year, after turning down repeated offers to play for Ghana.

Bundesliga TSV 1860 München gegen 1. FC Schalke 04

Schalke's striker Gerald Asamoah, right, scores the 1-0 during the German first soccer league match TSV 1860 Munich versus FC Schalke 04 at the Munich, Germany, Olympic stadium on Sunday, March 17, 2002. Left is Munich goalkeeper Simon Jentzsch. (AP Photo/Uwe Lein)

He started his Bundesliga career at lowly Werder Hannover before being snapped up by their mildly more successful neighbours in 1994. Asamoah hit the big time when first division Schalke 04 signed him in 1999 (photo).

The powerful midfielder, who plays in an attacking role for Schalke, has helped his club to domestic success and is the proud owner of a brace of German Cup winners medals, the most recent secured in this season's final against Bayer Leverkusen.

He also has a Bundesliga runners-up medal after coming second with Schalke in the heartbreaking conclusion to the 2000-2001 season when a 92nd minute free kick by Bayern Munich's Patrick Anderson gave the Bavarians the title.

Midfielder with a message

While hoping to increase his international goal tally at the World Cup in June, Asamoah has already come a long way from his roots in Mampong.

Although the mission in hand must be the quest for World Cup glory with the German team, Asamoah will use the tournament to continue to impress and inspire as a person and a sportsman.

He insists he does not want to appear as a "black saviour" but he is keen to change attitudes in his adopted country "just so that a few idiots realise that a black person can do something good for Germany."