German Police Confident They Can Cope With Hooligans at the World Cup

BERLIN (Reuters) - Police are optimistic the 2006 World Cup will be spared major outbreaks of violence after the draw for the opening stage threw up no high risk matches the head of a German anti-hooligan unit told Reuters.

'There are no (first round) matches that pose an obvious risk so we are happy' Michael Endler head of the German police unit monitoring hooliganism said in an interview late on Monday.

'There could be small problems in one or two places but I stress small. I am not having sleepless nights' Endler said looking ahead to the month-long tournament.

Large European footballing nations were seeded for the draw and so kept apart in the opening group phase of the month-long tournament. The Netherlands avoided any clash with England or Germany -- all three have some hooligans among their fans.

One problematic fixture could be that between hosts Germany and Poland on June 14 after around 50 fans from each country brawled near the Polish border two weeks ago.

Endler said police were not expecting a repeat when the two countries meet in June.

'We are regarding it in a relaxed way. There's no reason for particular concern' he said.

Endler's anti-hooligan nerve centre will receive information on fan movements and potential troublespots and expects to be handling 800 to 1000 messages per day during the tournament from June 9 to July 9.

Endler promised police would be 'friendly open but also firm' towards visiting fans and would seek to step in before violence erupted. Authorities would prosecute and punish troublemakers rather than just deport them.

England is likely to send the largest travelling army of fans with around 100000 expected in Germany many taking advantage of the wealth of low-cost flights.

Some 945 English hooligans were detained and expelled after rioting in Brussels and Charleroi in Belgium during Euro 2000.

However only 53 were arrested in the European championship in Portugal four years later after banning orders were imposed on around 2700 England fans. Now some 3200 face such orders.

'It is the most effective measure' said Endler.

German hooligans were restrained by having identity cards and passports confiscated in 2004 a measure that would not work on home soil. Authorities hope orders to report to local police stations will keep violent fans away from games.

Critics have said Germany is inviting trouble by encouraging fans without tickets to visit the country and watch matches on giant screens in major cities.

'It's like medicine. The primary effect is to give many people the opportunity to be as close as possible to the action. But it can have negative side effects' Endler said.

'However I think the positive will overpower the negative.'