By Erik Kirschbaum
SANTO ANDRE, Brazil, July 3 (Reuters) - Germany have gone to penalty shootouts four times in previous World Cups and emerged the winners all four times while converting 17 penalties in 18 attempts - what's the secret behind that uncanny success?
"A lot of that has to do with 'Nervenstaerke'," said Germany goalkeeping coach Andreas Koepke, using a term that means 'strength of nerves' but sounds better in German.
"That our shooters have only missed one in 18 shots has a lot to do with 'Nervenstaerke' and self-confidence. The shooters we have are strong, mentally strong. That's our secret. We go into shootouts and we know we've got a good chance to win."
It might sound like a simple recipe as the World Cup heads to the quarter-finals, with Germany facing France on Friday
But Germany's unrivalled success in four World Cups previous penalty shootouts against France in 1982, Mexico in 1986, England in 1990, and Argentina in 2006 provide ample evidence that Koepke's opinion is not mere psycho babble or hot air.
Of 18 penalty shootout kicks taken by Germans, the only miss was in the 1982 semi-final against France by Uli Stielike. But he was spared ignominy when Germany won 5-4 in six rounds.
"I didn't even know those statistics until you mentioned them," Koepke said at a news conference at Germany's base camp on the shores of the Atlantic in northeastern Brazil after a Brazilian journalist wanted to know if it's training, discipline or just a German 'tugend' - a 'virtue' they're born to do.
"It's just 'Nervenstaerke'," said Koepke, a former goalkeeper who also helped Germany win Euro96 when they beat England in a penalty shootout in the semi-final. "Like we had in 1996 in England."
GOALKEEPERS WHO CAN STOP SHOTS
Koepke said equally important for Germany's perfect four-for-four record at World Cups is that their goalkeepers were always among the world's best at stopping penalties.
"In the past - and right now - we've always had keepers who could stop penalties," he said.
The German public got a memorable taste of their penalty shooters' precision in a popular film about the 2006 World Cup. In one scene in "Deutschland: Ein Sommermaerchen" (Germany - A Summer's Fairytale), Germany players are practicing penalties a few weeks before the tournament begins.
They have to tell the goalkeeper in which corner they're going to shoot. If their shot is stopped they have to serve their teammates as waiters at the team dinner later that day.
When Tim Borowski dutifully tells reserve keeper Timo Hildebrand he's going to shoot low and to the right. Hildebrand moves to that corner but still can't stop the powerful shot.
"I'm really looking forward to the chance to take a penalty if it comes to that and I'm on the pitch," said forward Andre Schuerrle. "We've got plenty of shooters who have the confidence to do the job."
Here is a rundown of Germany's World Cup penalty shootouts.
1982 semi-final Germany beat France 5-4 after 3-3 draw
1986 quarter-final Germany beat Mexico 4-1 after 0-0 draw
1990 semi-final Germany beat England 4-3 after 1-1 draw
2006 quarter-final Germany beat Argentina 4-2 after 1-1 draw (Editing by Nigel Hunt)