Soccer-Lehmann beats Kahn in Germany's World Cup race
FRANKFURT, Apr 7 (Reuters) Jens Lehmann will be Germany's first choice goalkeeper at the 2006 World Cup, relegating former captain Oliver Kahn to the sidelines, coach Juergen Klinsmann said today.
''It was the hardest decision of my time as coach,'' Klinsmann said in a statement released by the German Football Association.
Klinsmann decided to pick Arsenal's Lehmann ahead of Bayern Munich's more experienced Kahn after a meeting with his coaching team today.
Both players are 36. Kahn has played 84 times for Germany while Lehmann has won 29 caps.
Kahn captained Germany to the final of the last World Cup in South Korea and Japan, and was named player of the 2002 tournament.
Klinsmann's decision follows days of heightened speculation, fuelled by a couple of bad mistakes by Kahn and Lehmann's faultless performances for Arsenal in the Champions League.
In four games against Real Madrid and Juventus, Arsenal did not concede a goal on the way to the semi-finals.
One of Klinsmann's first acts as coach after taking over in 2004 was to strip Kahn of the captaincy and inform the Bayern keeper he faced a battle with Lehmann for the first choice position.
The coach has since alternated the two players, saying he would make a final decision at the start of May.
He may have decided to make an earlier decision due to pressure from Bayern Munich.
The champions' sporting director Uli Hoeness this week accused Klinsmann of waging a campaign of ''psychological terror'' on Kahn by not announcing his decision sooner.
The uncertainty was to blame for Kahn's two errors in a 2-2 draw with Cologne in the Bundesliga last weekend, the club said.
Germany get the World Cup underway with a Group A game against Costa Rica on June 9 at Bayern Munich's stadium.
REUTERS PDS BS1936