England searching for the heroes inside themselves

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The Independent Online
It is not war, it is football and it is important not to forget that. However, England's European Championship semi-final with Germany at Wembley tonight is still about character. This much was recognised even before Euro 96 opened by the man responsible for improving European footballers' skills.

Andy Roxburgh, once Scotland manager, now technical director of Uefa, held a seminar for all 16 coaches before the tournament began. He ended it with an inspirational football video set to the M People song: "Search for the hero inside yourself".

That is what Terry Venables, the bulk of a Wembley full house, and more than 20 million TV viewers will be exhorting England's players to do tonight. It is this generation's fortune that, for most of them, sport is the most demanding arena in which they need to find that quality.

This match, inevitably, resonates with historical images, sporting and non-sporting. This has led to excesses which, Terry Venables yesterday stressed, he does not want to see aped by supporters. There is at stake, the FA have hinted, a chance to stage the 2006 World Cup.

There will be no danger of disrespect on the pitch. For once, England will be meeting a team which can match the British ones for character. In the 30 years since 1966 Germany have allied technique to heart and created an unrivalled combination. Since 1972 there have been 12 World Cup and European Championship tournaments. Germany have reached eight finals and won four.

In that time England have not reached a single final. They have met Germany 13 times since '66, but won just twice, both times in friendlies. Tonight represents, as Paul Ince admitted yesterday, probably England's best chance of beating them when it matters.

The match has the potential to be a classic. Not because England and Germany are packed with great players - though there will be a number of those on view - but because both are full of the courage and spirit which ensures their matches are never over until the final whistle.

Previous meetings, from Wembley, to Leon, to Turin, suggests that the teams bring the best from each other. The game will certainly be tough, but is unlikely to be spiteful; tight, but not negative.

If Jurgen Klinsmann does not play England's attack would seem to have the advantage, but Germany's defence has been breached only once in four games.

If Klinsmann does not play...will he? Won't he? Yesterday, after laser, massage, electrical and chemical treatment he said he "did not think" he would, which is a step closer than the previous day. A start is unlikely, but he may be on the bench, stripped and apparently ready. If Germany are a goal down with time running out do not rule out an appearance.

His importance is more than just talismanic. Germany have spent two years searching for his partner; now they have to find two strikers. The likely pair, Stefan Kuntz and Oliver Bierhoff, are the sixth and seventh choice. Bierhoff, though 28, has played only six games for the national side. Kuntz has played 20 but has played only the full 90 minutes twice and has not scored in the last 15 matches and 21 months.

Still the pair should not be underrated, and there are other sources of goals, from Andy Moller and Mehmet Scholl in midfield, to the dangerous left wing-back Christian Ziege and the influential sweeper Matthias Sammer. England, however, have the more obvious matchwinners, and that could prove crucial. Individual brilliance, as Karel Poborsky showed, can make the difference.

Roxburgh noted: "A lot of games have turned on one incident. A red card, or a penalty, or a great goal. The standard is so even, sides are so organised, everyone is studying everyone else. You need the great talents to make the difference. There are enough of them left. [Paul] Gascoigne is one, [Alan] Shearer is another who can can produce a goal from nothing."

So can Steve McManaman. The need to free him should ensure that Phil Neville wins his second England cap in place of his suspended elder brother Gary. McManaman was restricted in the first half against Spain by having to attend to Sergi's breaks from full-back. Ziege is just as much of a threat and, to counter him, England are expected to play Neville on the right.

It will be a bittersweet occasion for Neville who admitted at Bisham Abbey yesterday: "I was gutted when Gary was booked. It was only at the end of the match I realised it meant I would have a chance of playing."

Phil replaced Gary in the Manchester United team and ended up playing in the FA Cup final, but he added: "Gary has been playing brilliantly. I am sure he will be back if we get to this final. Maybe that will make up for the FA Cup."

The pair are very close - they are the only England players sharing a room - and Phil said: "We've never been rivals at sport. He'll be 100 per cent behind me tomorrow, as a brother and a team-mate." He will be expected to push up, leaving the back three to attend to Germany's anticipated twin strike-force. If Germany play one-up, Gareth Southgate will step into midfield.

Of the four England injury doubts Darren Anderton is the most serious. Gascoigne, Tony Adams and Teddy Sheringham should all be fit. "Germany are very solid and very hard to draw out of position," Terry Venables, the England coach, said. "They are a counter-attacking team."

Venables also made a plea for the German national anthem to be respected. "The fans have been wonderful and I want them to continue to be so. We are showing the world we can create a great atmosphere without trouble. It is a football match, it has nothing to do with events of 50 years ago. Some things, for this game and the Spain one, have gone too far. Insulting people's mother country is not funny."

Should inflammatory words be followed by violent actions the FA may have to forget about the 2006 World Cup. Ironically this would leave the Germans free to pursue their intended bid.

It is a night of opportunity and examination, for England's players and supporters. Both are capable of meeting the challenge.


1 David Seaman (Arsenal)

19 Phil Neville (Man Utd)

5 Tony Adams (Arsenal)

6 Gareth Southgate (A Villa)

3 Stuart Pearce (N Forest)

17 Steve McManaman (Liverpool)

8 Paul Gascoigne (Rangers)

4 Paul Ince (Internazionale)

11 Darren Anderton (Tottenham)

10 Teddy Sheringham (Tottenham)

11 Alan Shearer (Blackburn)

1 Andreas Kopke (E Frankfurt)

6 Matthias Sammer (Dortmund)

5 Thomas Helmer (B Munich)

14 Markus Babbel (B Munich)

2 Stefan Reuter (Dortmund)

21 Dieter Eilts (Bremen)

17 Christian Ziege (B Munich)

8 Mehmet Scholl (B Munich)

7 Andreas Moller (Dortmund)

11 Stefan Kuntz (Besiktas)

20 Oliver Bierhoff (Udinese)

probable teams