A bout of football fever is rapidly becoming an epidemic in Germany as passion for the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ reaches every nook and cranny of the host nation.

Against such a backdrop, it can be difficult for players not to become carried away on a wave of euphoria, but Bernd Schneider - named captain for the opening match against Costa Rica - was calmness personified when he sat down to chat with FIFAworldcup.com.

That is not, however, to say that even the vastly experienced Schneider, with 65 international appearances behind him, is immune to the effect of this blossoming support for the national team. "We know we have the nation behind us," he said, "and obviously we're all delighted about that."

Technically gifted and an outstanding passer of the ball, Schneider has shown himself willing to accept every task handed him in a Germany shirt over the years, and has earned a richly-deserved reputation as the team's 'Mr Reliable'.

Though often kept out of the media spotlight by the likes of Michael Ballack and Bastian Schweinsteiger, Schneider is valued by the team-mates who realise that he is industriousness exemplified, closing down space, calling for the ball and even filling in at right-back when necessary, as at the 2002 FIFA World Cup. The man known affectionately as 'Schnix' has no obvious double in Jurgen Klinsmann's squad, and is a quiet, even taciturn pillar of strength within a young and exuberant squad.

Schneider learnt long ago to deal with pressure, and is thus able to shrug off talk that there might be a burden of home expectations. "Pressure? No, we're not at that stage yet," he insisted. "We have to concentrate on playing. Our hotel is the place to get away from it all. If you want to, you just turn on the TV, and you're back in the thick of it."

Ballack boost
For all his calmness, it would be mistaken to believe Schneider's pulse never races. Even he senses the excitement 24 hours ahead of Germany's second and potentially decisive group encounter against Poland at the FIFA World Cup Stadium Dortmund. "Actually, I've kept a record of my personal highlights, and Dortmund is right up there with the best of them. The play-off against Ukraine before 2002 (when Germany won 4-1 to progress 5-2 on aggregate) was truly unbelievable."

It is a rare excursion into the world of superlatives for Schneider, and thus worthy of special consideration. "I got goose bumps at the opening match in Munich," he confesses, convinced of another white-hot atmosphere on Wednesday evening when proceedings against Poland get under way. "We know we're through to the next round if we win."

Overview of Group A

Schneider also admits to delight at the opportunity to step out of the spotlight for the duel with the team coached by Pawel Janas and beaten 2-0 by Ecuador in their opening match. "I couldn't be happier to see Ballack returning," said the Bayer Leverkusen midfielder. "He's important for us, not only because he scores vital goals, but because of his personality. I have no problem handing the armband back to him."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this modest footballer admits to sympathy and, in some cases, admiration for the teams considered underdogs at the tournament. "I've finally found time to watch a couple of matches on TV," he said. "I was really impressed by Trinidad and Tobago. They kept fighting to the bitter end, just like the Iranians."

Schneider declines to comment on the names banded about as fellow title contenders, the likes of Argentina, England and the Netherlands. "I've not seen anything especially new in footballing terms," was all he would say. "Maybe just that the tempo stays permanently high."

Thoughts of the Final have not even entered his mind, with such premature thinking completely out of keeping with his character. "I know it's a cliche, but it's really true: the next match is genuinely the most difficult and important." He is, however, prepared to accept one key factor, one which may cause a few worried glances to be exchanged between Germany's rivals.

"It's true the fans can really drive you on. You have to believe that home support could be the decisive factor at the end of the day."