Power surge needed to ignite final

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The Independent Online
While the English are trying to summon up interest, Germany and the Czech Republic will be calling on their final reserves of energy and will. Many might think that the real final of Euro 96 took place on Wednesday night, but that would be to ignore the undoubted qualities of tonight's participants.

Germany's part in the classic confrontation against England has been largely overlooked, but theirs was a performance of remarkable durability in an atmosphere that would have overwhelmed most others. The Czechs have also shown unsuspected depths since losing their opening group encounter to the Germans.

The German squad is in some disarray because of the suspensions of the inspirational Andy Moller and Stefan Reuter and a litany of injuries. Jurgen Kohler, Mario Basler and Fredi Bobic are long gone, and while the excellent Thomas Helmer is expected to be fit enough to appear in defence, the star striker Jurgen Klinsmann is likely to play only a short period as a substitute at best. He said yesterday he had "a little hope" of playing.

To his credit, the German coach, Berti Vogts, has declined to take full advantage of Uefa's astonishing ruling that both teams may recruit two new squad members. Instead, he has called up only Jens Todt, a midfield player recently transferred from Freiburg to Werder Bremen, who will probably be a substitute.

After being without four suspended players in the semi-final, the Czech Republic are nearer full strength, though there is a doubt about their goalkeeper Petr Kouba, who has a calf strain, and Newcastle's Pavel Srnicek stands by. It may be no bad switch: Kouba looked sluggish in conceding the two goals against the Germans last time.

Nothing has come easily to the Czechs so far. After the German defeat, they were within a few minutes of elimination before Vladimir Smicer equalised against Russia to level the score at 3-3 after they had let go of a 2- 0 lead. It continued even yesterday when they had to be evacuated from their hotel for two hours because of a chemical leak. Through it all, with little expectation intruding upon them - Smicer had even booked his wedding for last Friday and returned to Prague to keep the date - they have remained as relaxed as the similarly unburdened champions Denmark were four years ago.

The memory of that, and the mantle of favourites, will rest uneasily with the beaten finalists from last time. They should have enough in the tank to overcome the Czechs, but will need more assertive displays from players such as Christian Ziege and Thomas Hassler. The difference between the teams could be the elegant libero Matthias Sammer.

We can expect to see the Czechs' now familiar strategy of defending in depth and hoping to poach a goal on the break. But the game will need an early goal, like Alan Shearer's on Wednesday, if it is to begin to equal the last that was played in the stadium.

Wembley is a 76,000 sell-out according to the official sources but we have heard that before during this tournament. The tickets may have been sold in advance packages but there could be a large number of no-shows.

It is a ticketing policy that Uefa must re-examine, along with the question of larger squads to reflect the more extensive tournament. A new disciplinary system, with a suspension resulting from two yellow cards that does not differentiate between technical and brutal offences, is also needed.

Uefa's ruling on the extra players seems belated acknowledgement of their oversights. The hope now is that we get a better final than they deserve.

Germany's giant, page 25