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By ESPN Staff

Germany coach confident despite injury crisis

BERLIN, Aug 31 (Reuters) - Germany have a defensive crisis as they prepare to face Ireland in their first qualifying match in almost three years on Saturday.

Coach Joachim Loew will be without his four specialist centre backs for the Euro 2008 Group D qualifier in Stuttgart and fullback Arne Friedrich is doubtful through illness.

This will be Loew's first competitive match in charge, following his promotion from the assistant's role under Juergen Klinsmann at the World Cup.

The match looks like a potential banana skin for the new coach but Loew is confident the momentum that took the Germans to third place in their home tournament this year can be maintained against Ireland and away to San Marino on Wednesday.

'The World Cup is over and we must inspire a new form of euphoria now,' Loew told reporters this week. 'Despite the injury problems, we want six points from the first two games.'

Germany's impressive run to the World Cup semi-finals was based on the solid partnership of Christoph Metzelder and Per Mertesacker at centre back. However, both those players are out injured, as are Robert Huth and Jens Nowotny.

Loew is hoping Arne Friedrich will recover in time to shift across and take one of the centre back roles alongside the inexperienced Manuel Friedrich.

'I'm not going to start whinging about it,' Loew said. 'Manuel Friedrich and Arne Friedrich have both played at centre back for their clubs. They know what they have to do.'

Germany played well in their first match under Loew, a 3-0 win over Sweden in Gelsenkirchen on Aug. 16, as World Cup Golden Boot winner Miroslav Klose maintained his excellent scoring run with two goals.

Ireland were a shambles in a 4-0 friendly defeat by Netherlands in Dublin on the same night but coach Steve Staunton can welcome back several players who missed that game.

Robbie Keane, Damien Duff, Richard Dunne and goalkeeper Shay Given have all recovered from injuries and should resume their roles as the backbone of the team.

There are no new injury concerns for Staunton following the withdrawal on Monday of Paddy Kenny and Stephen Kelly.

Midfielder Steven Reid and John O'Shea are also likely to take the field at the Gottlieb-Daimler-Stadion in Stuttgart, a ground that has happy memories for both sides.

It was in Stuttgart that Ireland pulled off a famous win over England in the 1988 European Championship.

Germany's final match of the World Cup was also played at Stuttgart, the hosts beating Portugal 3-1 with a cracking performance to clinch third place.