Germans lifted by chance to call up new players
Germany yesterday persuaded Uefa to bend their own rules in an attempt to field a fit team for tomorrow's European Championship final. Having threatened to reduce the final to a farce by playing their goalkeepers as outfield players, the favourites were given permission to call up two more players from Germany.
The controversial decision - which clearly flouts competition rules - does mean the final is unlikely to be devalued. But one wonders if Uefa, European football's governing body, would have been so understanding if it was the Czechs, who do not have an influential voice in the corridors of powers, who had been affected.
Berti Vogts, the German coach, was last night considering who to call up. Earlier in the tournament, Vogts had refused to replace the injured Mario Basler when it was permissible, instead gambling that the player would recover.
Vogts had earlier suggested that his reserve goalkeepers, Oliver Kahn and Oliver Reck, may play and had ordered outfield shirts for them. Had the match been yesterday the pair would have played - only 13 Germans were able to train and they included Stefan Reuter and Andy Moller, both of whom are suspended from the final.
Germany's problems mean little can be inferred from the Group C meeting between these sides, won comfortably by Germany at Old Trafford. So much has changed since, its only relevance is that it was the game in which Reuter and Moller collected their first bookings.
This observer, having ended the report of that match with the suggestion that spectators "may have seen the future champions", is tempted to boast. However, it would be stretching a point to pretend the Czechs had also been in mind.
Their subsequent arrival in the final is a testament to their organisation and spirit as much as their ability. Having conceded six goals in the group stages, they kept successive clean sheets in the knock-out rounds, including a spell of extra-time.
Bert van Lingen, the assistant manager of the Dutch side which was beaten by the Czechs in the qualifying rounds, said: "We knew a year ago they were a good team. They remind me of the Romanians in Italia '90."
Even so, it is a surprise to find them in the final. While most east European teams draw players from all over the continent, the Czechs have 15 home-based players, including some in the Second Division. That may change with Karol Poborsky attracting Liverpool and Manchester United and goalkeeper Petr Kouba interesting Wolves.
Poborsky, Patrik Berger and Pavel Kuka are potential matchwinners. The latter pair are among five Bundesliga players - what an incentive they have to win. Kouba has a thigh strain and is said to be doubtful.
The Czechs are likely to field a five-man back line and a four-man midfield. As a boost to their "booze-and-bonking" image, which is attracting floating support as much as their "underdogs" tag, they promise to play Vladimir Smicer, who flew home on Thursday to get married.
The German line-up will be dictated by the doctors. Jurgen Kohler and Mario Basler have already returned home with injury, while Fredi Bobic dislocated his shoulder last Sunday. Jurgen Klinsmann (calf), Thomas Helmer (knee), Steffen Freund (knee) are very doubtful; Christian Ziege (shin), Stefan Kuntz (calf) and Marcus Bode (pulled muscle), are merely doubtful.
Even the prospect of penalties would not give Germany the usual confidence. The Germans have not lost a penalty shoot-out in 20 years (scoring 18 of 19 kicks in that time) but the one they did is still remembered in Prague.
It was in the final of the 1976 Championships. They are said to be still searching the Belgrade streets for the ball Uli Honess blasted over Ivo Viktor's goal, while Antonin Panenka's chipped winner is continually copied - most recently by Dwight Yorke in the FA Cup against Sheffield United.
That is the only time a Czech team has defeated a German one in 14 matches dating back to 1964 - when they were called West Germany and Czechoslovakia.
Before the tournament began there was a lot of talk about a "new nation", inspired by its restored sense of identity, doing well. Croatia failed to meet expectation but a less heralded newcomer - one which lost to Luxembourg in qualifying - has surpassed them.
Only 4,000 tickets have gone to the Czechs, 11,000 to Germany. Dusan Uhrin's side will have the bulk of neutral support in an allegedly "sold- out" crowd. If everyone turns up, it will be the largest attendance for a European Championship final in 32 years. It is unlikely to be the best one, but the Czechs could have one final surprise left.
HOW THEY REACHED THE FINAL
Group C: 9 June: lost to Germany 0-2 at Old Trafford; 14 June: beat Italy 2-1 (Nedved, Bejbl) at Anfield; June 19: drew with Russia 3-3 (Suchoparek, Kuka, Smicer) at Anfield.
Quarter-final: 23 June: beat Portugal 1-0 (Poborsky) at Villa Park.
Semi-final: 26 June: drew with France 0-0 aet: won 6-5 on penalties at Old Trafford.
Group C: 9 June: beat Czech Republic 2-0 (Ziege, Moller) at Old Trafford; 16 June: beat Russia 3-0 (Sammer, Klinsmann 2) at Old Trafford; 19 June: drew with Italy 0-0 at Old Trafford.
Quarter-final: 23 June: beat Croatia 2-1 (Klinsmann pen, Sammer) at Old Trafford.
Semi-final: 26 June: drew with England 1-1 (Kuntz) aet: won 6-5 on penalties at Wembley.
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