There is room for technical improvement but England were not far behind the best and would have been favoured to beat the Czechs

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The Independent Online
You cannot help suspecting that England's defeat by Germany at the semi-final stage of Euro 96 came as a relief to some prominent members of the Football Association.

They have been spared the embarrassment of Terry Venables being hailed as a national hero six months after their lack of support prompted the England coach's decision to become available for alternative employment upon completion of his stint in the championship.

Of course, there was the dilemma provided by Venables' legal entanglements but, if the FA thought it insurmountable, why was a compromise suggested to him a week or so before Glenn Hoddle's succession?

That the FA thought seriously about persuading Venables to continue became clear in a long conversation I had with him shortly before Euro 96 got under way. It appears that Venables was asked to consider a one-year extension of his contract which, as it took him only half-way through an attempt to qualify for the 1998 World Cup finals in France, made very little sense. Anyway, it did not appeal to Venables .

Events during England's short pre-championship tour of the Far East not only enabled Venables's critics to argue further that no possible case could be made for him but doubtless comforted those in authority who had opposed his appointment.

Subsequent dramas have, however, put a different slant on things. The importance Venables attached to spending time with his players in a competitive situation was borne out by England getting to within a shoot-out of the final.

Venables has long been convinced that the best qualities of British football, its verve and spirit, could be married to the intelligent application of technique that is central to Germany's remarkable record of 11 appearances in the final of major championships. Venables is greatly taken with developments in the Netherlands, but from what we have seen so far the Germans are perhaps a better example.

Someone was saying yesterday that the difference in fortunes between German and English football mirrors national characteristics. "They have the efficiency that has helped to bring all those successes but they don't have a Paul Gascoigne," he said.

In the minds of many, I suppose that watching Germans play football is a bit like watching Bernhard Langer play golf. Vorsprung durch technik. As Germany produced Franz Beckenbauer, to my mind one of the eight greatest players in history (with Pele, Alfredo di Stefano, Johan Cruyff, Ferenc Puskas, George Best, Diego Maradona and John Charles) this does not hold up completely.

Nevertheless, efficiency is what we have come to associate with German football and it was critical to the success of their depleted team in a quite momentous match at Wembley. The determined application of a containment policy forced upon them by the absence of Jurgen Klinsmann and all but one of their first-choice forwards deserved the utmost admiration. No Gascoigne, maybe, but the best players on the field in Dieter Eilts and Matthias Sammer.

Luck deserted England on the night but in defeat they showed how much progress they have made since Venables set about modernising the method.

Earlier this week I suggested that Euro 96 has not lived up entirely to expectations. A number of teams, particularly the Netherlands and Portugal, were less than some made them out to be. There is room for technical improvement, but England were not far behind and would have been favoured to beat the Czech Republic.

Yesterday, Venables passed the torch on to Hoddle, who has the task of qualifying England for the next World Cup finals from what looks one of the toughest groups.

This is not to detract from Hoddle's ability but a similar move would never occur to the Germans. From Sepp Herberger - efficiency overcame a great Hungarian team in the 1954 World Cup final - to Helmut Schon, to Jupp Derwall to Beckenbauer, all winners of major titles. Vogts can join them on Sunday. The word is continuity.

What one wonders would the reaction have been if Venables had gone on to win Euro 96? High in public esteem, Venables was no more of a coach on Wednesday than he was before the tournament. Trouble was that people in positions of power lacked the guts to go along with him.

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