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Germans make awed approach to football's greatest symbol

Hartmut Scherzer looks at Wembley's emotional significance to the visitors
Wembley - this is where the eyes of even grown men and spoiled stars, like Jurgen Klinsmann, are turning moist.

Tears choked the German captain as he limped off at Old Trafford last Sunday. Tears of desperation, not of pain, fully aware that he was very probably going to miss Wembley. But tendinitis will not prevent Thomas Helmer from appearing in the semi-final: "I have never played at Wembley. For me, a personal dream has come true."

Until the 1950s, Wembley's hallowed turf was unconquerable for over half a century, its protective aura scattered only when the Mighty Magyars travelled across the Channel. Its dramatic symbolism to Germans is not surpassed by any other stadium in the world.

Wembley made one German prisoner of war an English hero: Bert Trautmann, the legendary goalkeeper, who won the 1956 Cup final with Manchester City despite sustaining a broken neck.

Wembley gave us the most famous and most contentious goal in football history. The third English goal, which came off the crossbar and bounced on the line, making the score 3-2, was decisive in England's victory over Germany in the World Cup final 30 years ago.

Germany had to wait until 1972 for its first victory over England at Wembley, a memorable 3-1 victory in the European Championship. This match marked the birth of the Wunderteam, spearheaded by Beckenbauer and Netzer, which went on to become European champions a few weeks later.

But Wembley also moves personal destinies in a mysterious way. Stefan Kuntz knows something about that. In 1991, Germany's Footballer of the Year should have made his first international appearanceagainst England at Wembley. But stepping out of the coach before a Bundesliga game in Munich, he fell and tore a ligament. Now the injuries sustained by Klinsmann and Fredi Bobic bring Kuntz back to the arena.

For the English, however, Wembley is not the stage of its dramas involving the Germans.

In the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, England, the reigning champions, squandered a two-goal lead and tumbled out of the quarter-finals at the hands of Gerd Muller.

Twenty years later, in Turin, England again fell to Germany, this time in the semi-final on penalties. Stuart Pearce, who missed one of them, has only now healed his six-year trauma in the shoot-out against Spain.

The English media do not conceal their delight at Wembley's home advantage against a drastically weakened German side, disappointing in their quarter- final win over Croatia.

"We were once again not able to put the opponent under pressure," Helmer said. Andreas Moller added: "If I had played better, the team would have played better." And even the outstanding Matthias Sammer remarked: "We did not cover ourselves in glory in reaching the semi-finals."

After reaching the semi-finals, Wembley could determine Berti Vogts' personal destiny but only in a positive sense: winning Euro 96 would give him his first title as team manager after all the setbacks.

Wembley beckons and Helmer tries to confound the critics and the doubters. "We should learn to be happy again - at least until the next game. I am looking forward to Wembley, we will face the English with no fear. The chances are 50:50." In spite, or perhaps because of, the power the Wembley myth holds over German football.

Translation by Thomas Gerner