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GERMANS HEAVILY FAVORED VS. CZECHS

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It's Europe's strongest team against the upset specialist.

Germany aims for its third European title in its fifth final today against the upstart Czech Republic, which has beaten Italy, Portugal and France."They qualified ahead of Holland and they were second in this very tough group and that speaks for their strength," German coach Berti Vogts said of the Czechs.

"We respect their performance . . . But we eliminated England.

"We beat them in the opener and that has added to our confidence. My team will try everything to win and will make life very difficult for the Czechs."

Vogts' upbeat assessment of his team comes despite the absence of two of his most experienced and influential players, Stefan Reuter and Andreas Moeller, who are suspended.

The Germans almost certainly will be without injured captain and star striker Juergen Klinsmann. He tore a calf muscle in the 2-1 quarterfinal victory over Croatia.

But Klinsmann also is confident about his team's chances.

"We've had injuries and suspensions but it's phenomenal how we're holding together," he said. "We are proud of that. The whole team is thinking positively. If one player drops out, another jumps in."

Eighty-to-one shots when the 16-team competition started three weeks ago, the Czechs capitalized on their opponents' failures to win the earlier games.

Helped against Italy by the first half expulsion of Parma's Luigi Apolloni, they exposed some rare defensive lapses by the Italians and won 2-1.

After a 3-3 tie with the Russians, the Czechs outsmarted the Portuguese and the French by turning the field into a chessboard.

Whenever their opponents came up with a move, they found a way of blocking it by smothering the midfield with five players in front of a four-men backline.

The Portuguese and the French, more talented man-for-man, became exasperated by their inability to get through and around the Czech defense.

The French, who didn't create enough chances, were forced to go to a penalty shootout after a 0-0 tie and lost 6-5.

The Germans also got a 6-5 tiebreak victory over the English in a semifinal penalty shootout after a 1-1 tie at Wembley.

Unlike the Italians, Portuguese and French, however, they have few weaknesses and the Czechs may have to produce something more creative to win the title even against a below-strength German team.