Remove the incredible hype and the heartfelt national hope and what is left is an England team whose spirit, if not necessarily their performances, have soared in the telling space of 11 days of Euro 96. At stake, a place in the final of the second biggest football tournament in the world. The opponents are old, but now stricken, foes - Germany. There will be a sell-out crowd of almost 76,000 supporters at Wembley Stadium tonight, the vast majority of them a chanting, roaring, praying brotherhood of English fans who see Terry Venables' team as destined to win the European Championships just as their now fabled predecessors 30 years ago won the World Cup. Standing between them and glory are Germany whose record against the host nation, the 1966 final apart, is outstanding. They have lost two meaningless friendlies in the decades since 1966 and have ended England's World Cup aspirations on two occasions. But the record books mean nothing in the highways and byways of England today. The nation is united behind a team that looked at one stage possible first-round casualties. So much has changed in 11 days that it is not just the ordinary folk of England who feel that the country's name is written on the Henri Delauney Trophy. Coaches at this tournament like Guus Hiddink of Holland and Miroslav Blasevic of Croatia believe that the Queen will hand the trophy to Tony Adams - or squad captain David Platt? - at Wembley on Sunday night (Monday morning Hong Kong time). 'There is now a self-belief in the team and Venables has shown himself again to be a coach of the highest calibre. 'And it is impossible not to recognise the importance of the crowd support. It has been quite incredible, more than I thought was possible almost anywhere,' Hiddink said. Blasevic said after Croatia's defeat by Germany: 'The advantage for the host nation is considerable. They have also had an extra day's rest, although they did have to play 30 minutes of extra time. 'But their players are now much stronger and more confident as a unit. They have improved tremendously in a short space of time.' He added: 'I think they will beat Germany and win the tournament.' It is, of course, virtually impossible to strip away the hype, and the fantastic support given the England team has had an undeniable effect, as Venables admits. 'Uplifting. Quite incredible. We want to go out and do it not just for ourselves but for this country and the people of this country,' said Venables, who admits to enjoying every minute of Euro 96. And why not - he certainly has earned the accolades and the certainty of a top job somewhere in Europe when the dream ends. Looked at clinically, England will rarely have a better chance of beating perennial world achievers Germany than they do at Wembley Stadium tonight. No team can lose its first-choice striking duo and be quite the same. The loss of captain Jurgen Klinsmann is a harsh blow as he has been not only the country's top striker but also a great motivator. And he is the one German that English fans actually love - although how much that would have mattered in the white heat of Wembley tonight must be debatable. Watching the strangely subdued German fans streaming from Old Trafford after the defeat of Croatia, the lines of a poem, half forgotten and learned at school some considerable time ago, were recalled. How many, I wonder, remember 'The burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna?' The battle in the Peninsula War was won, but the lines went: 'Not a sound was heard, not a funeral note as his corpse to the ramparts we carried . . . and bitterly thought of the morrow.' The German faithful at Old Trafford know exactly how important Klinsmann is to the team and his leadership will be missed. But it does leave Berti Vogts with only one option which he must take. In will come Udinese striker Oliver Bierhoff with Stefan Kuntz, now playing for Besiktas in Turkey, as his virtually certain partner. And Vogts will be able to welcome back midfielder Thomas Strunz who has finished a two-game suspension and he looks certain to go into a middle four where the other three will be Dieter Eilts, who has had a good tournament, Andreas Moller, an outstanding player here, and either Mehmet Scholl or Thomas Hassler. Scholl was injured late in the game against Croatia but had done well when given the chance and should be penned in before Hassler who has not had the happiest of times here. Essentially, it means that Germany are going to be extremely difficult to score against because their defence remains firmly the same with the superb Matthias Sammer - player of the tournament to date in the opinion of many - the key to much of what happens in this team. The long-striding Stefan Reuter makes penetrating runs which could unsettle England, while Thomas Helmer, on the other flank, is also capable going forward. Venables, renowned as a tactician, is faced with a more intriguing selection problem than his opposite number. After all, if your strike force is wiped out you have to find another - but at least the rest remains in place. It is slightly more complex for Venables. He loses ever-present Gary Neville through suspension but welcomes back Paul Ince. However, there is no straightforward one-for-one switch there, so the Inter Milan midfield star will presumably play his normal role. Does Venables drop Platt - or play three at the back? If he takes that route then the increasingly effective Gareth Southgate is at the back with Adams and Stuart Pearce leaving Ince possibly in front of them and a familiar lineup of Darren Anderton, Paul Gascoigne, Platt and Steve McManaman across the middle. Playing three at the back against a reduced strike force may sound feasible, but there remains a lack of pace and mobility in the English rear and there could be many anxious moments if Reuter gets into stride, Sammer comes forward as he did against Croatia and Moller moves as he can and does. Yet England played so much better when Southgate was pushed forward against Spain in the second half that it must be tempting to go that way. But there is no ready substitute for Neville, other than less experienced brother Philip. And that will mean axing someone from the midfield to make way for Ince who cannot conceivably sit this one out. But Venables has had a happy knack to date of getting it right - if not always at the start. England's first-half performances, except for the epic effort against the Netherlands, have definitely been forgettable. And England's coach, players and the millions of supporters willing them on know in their hearts that, whatever injuries or bad luck befalls them, the Germans will fight this one out to the end. They will give nothing away and England will have to earn their place in the final by careful planning, skill and execution. Get it wrong and the dream dies. In the other semi-final, France have a glorious opportunity to emulate their illustrious predecessors of 1984 . . . the year they won the European Championship with Michel Platini. A sadly reduced Czech Republic will find it hard to deny the French who will miss Christian Karembeu and the excellent Christophe Dugarry. Patrice Loko will replace Dugarry and coach Aime Jacquet can consider Sabri Lamouchi of Auxerre or Corentin Martins, also of last season's double winners. It is possible that he might move forward the impressive Lilian Thuram and bring in Jocelyn Angloma, who has had only limited outings to date. France start as raging favourites and should not disappoint.