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“Mama Mia, We Are Bad!!!”

So screamed the front-page headline in the Bild, Germany’s top-selling newspaper, after the German national soccer team was crushed 4-1 by Italy this month in a World Cup tuneup.

Things have gone from bad to worse for the Germans, who will be hosting the month-long tournament beginning June 9. A reported betting scandal, later retracted, involving a top German player was followed by a season-ending injury to another. Even the German head of state stepped in to settle a feud between the national coach and Germany’s World Cup boss.

Dismayed German fans get another chance to scrutinize their national team Wednesday on prime-time TV before a sold-out stadium. Oh, by the way — they’re playing the Americans.

“There is definitely a little bit of angst, and the way they lost to Italy has added that bit more pressure,” U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller, who plays professionally in Germany, said in an interview with www.fifaworldcup.com.

“We’ll be expecting a very focused German team for the match against us. There’ll be a huge backlash.”

It isn’t just in international soccer that Germany is floundering. All but one of its six professional teams has been eliminated from Europe’s top club tournaments — the Champions League and UEFA Cup.

The game against the U.S., to be played before 70,000 fans at Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park, is being billed by Germans as must-win.

“It’s a big deal to these people,” said U.S. defender Steve Cherundolo, who plays for Hanover in the Germany’s top league. “They take it very seriously, as they should, and things haven’t gone well the past year and a half.”

Unlike Germany, which has won three World Cups and has the pressure of hosting this year’s event, the U.S. side has been flying under the international soccer radar, at least until now.

The Americans are 4-0-1 this year in World Cup tuneups, including a 1-0 victory over Poland on March 1 before 13,395 fans — the majority of them Americans — in Kaiserslautern. They’ve climbed to fifth in the FIFA world rankings.

The U.S. side will be depleted on Wednesday, with key players missing due to minor injuries (Frankie Hejduk, Landon Donovan), suspension (Clint Dempsey), and obligations to their European clubs (Brian McBride, Claudio Reyna, DaMarcus Beasley, Eddie Lewis and Oguchi Onyewu).

Also not making the trip is the ballyhooed 16-year-old Freddy Adu of D.C. United, who now seems a long shot to make the squad.

However, players on the roster for the Germany game include 2005 Major League Soccer MVP Taylor Twellman, who has four goals and three assists in his last three U.S. appearances, Germany-based players Gregg Berhalter and Benny Feihaber, rising star Eddie Johnson of the Kansas City Wizards, and international veterans Eddie Pope, Pablo Mastroeni and Josh Wolff.

The U.S. has also scheduled games in the States against Morocco (May 23), Venezuela (May 26) and Latvia (May 28).

Germany, which dropped to 22nd in the world rankings, will be led by two of the world’s highest-profile players — captain/midfielder Michael Ballack and goaltender Oliver Khan, who led Germany over the U.S., 1-0, in the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

U.S.-Germany soccer

When: 8:30 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Dortmund, Germany

TV: AFN-Sports, ZDF-TV (in Germany)

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