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By ESPN Staff

Klinsmann gives credit to US fitness pioneer

BERLIN, July 3 (Reuters) - If Germany make it past Italy on Tuesday to reach the World Cup final, Juergen Klinsmann will be happy to share the credit with a pioneering American who was unknown outside Germany until two years ago.

Fitness instructor Mark Verstegen, who runs the Athletes' Performance group with centres in Arizona and California, was one of the first people hired by Klinsmann when he took over as Germany coach in August 2004.

He was charged with revolutionising training sessions, charting the fitness of each player and devising individual programmes for them to follow when they were back at their clubs.

'I was proud to get to know Mark,' Klinsmann, whose home base remains in California, told reporters on Monday. 'I could see how good he was to work with.

'We are convinced that football will become more and more focused on the individual. To make the team better, you make the individual better.'

The recruitment of Verstegen roused suspicion in Germany, with many wondering why the three-times world champions needed help from an American, but the German record at this World Cup speaks volumes for his effectiveness.

Germany have had no serious injuries and their players have clearly had more sharpness and stamina than their opponents in all five matches to date.

Only captain Michael Ballack showed signs of fatigue in the punishing quarter-final against Argentina on Friday, needing treatment for muscle cramps during extra time.

Even he was able to recover sufficiently to blast in his penalty in the shootout Germany won 4-2.

In the gym and on the training pitch, you will hear more English spoken than German as Verstegen leads the players through their work-outs.

Psychology plays a part, too. After the very first session of the pre-World training camp in Sardinia, when the then uncapped David Odonkor trained with his new team mates for the first time, Verstegen had the players gather in a circle.

'We are a...' Odonkor was asked to shout out three times and the rest of the players responded with a rousing chant of 'Team!'

Germany have proved that at this World Cup, with most players turning in performances far above the quality they usually show for their clubs.

'I can't overestimate the contribution Mark and his team have made,' Klinsmann said. 'Just ask the players and I'm sure they will only have praise for him.'