BERLIN (Reuters) - An 18-year-old aslyum-seeker from Gambia has given Germany's refugee crisis an improbable new twist with a fairy-tale soccer performance -- scoring four headline-grabbing goals in his first match as a second-half substitute for Werder Bremen.
Tensions are rising in Germany over the surging numbers of refugees, expected to more than double to a record 450,000 this year from 200,000 in 2014. An opinion poll on Thursday found support falling for the government's pro-refugee policies.
There were 150 arson or other attacks that damaged or destroyed refugee shelters in the first six month of 2015 as Germany struggles to cope with refugees fleeing war and violence in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
But Ousman Manneh, who fled from Gambia to Germany on his own in 2014, has given the issue a new face. He has been the talk of the nation after scoring four times in Werder Bremen's 7-0 win over SV Wilhelmshaven in a pre-season exhibition match.
"This is where I want to be," Manneh, who stands 1.90 meters tall, told Bremen's local newspaper, Kreiszeitung, referring to Germany's top-flight Bundesliga. "I'm working hard for this. If I get a chance, I'll go for it."
Manneh has declined to reveal details about his flight last year from Gambia to Germany. He only moved out of the refugee center in Bremen into his own flat after turning 18 in March -- a day after signing a contract with Werder Bremen's youth team.
It was only a year ago that Manneh, still living in the refugee center, got a try-out at a local club playing in a lower regional league, Blumenthal SV. He scored 15 goals in 12 matches before catching the eye of Bundesliga side Werder Bremen.
"He lives for soccer," Werder Bremen assistant coach Torsten Frings told the newspaper Bild. "He should try to forget everything else that's gone on around him."
"If someone had told me before this would have happened, I wouldn't have believe them," Manneh said of his four goals within a 15-minute span after entering the match in the 60th minute.
But the refugee issue has rattled Germany. On Saturday two people were hurt when a far-right rally opposed to a new refugee center in Frankfurt/Oder turned violent.
Germany's top filmmaker, Til Schweiger, told Reuters that too many Germans openly espouse racist views.
A representative opinion poll for the ARD TV network released found only 23 percent support taking in more refugees this year, down from 30 percent in January. The number who want to take in fewer refugees more than doubled to 38 percent.
Reporting by Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Larry King