By Pete Sanderson in Preston
Invincible, machine-like and unbeatable are just three of the words which have been used to describe Germany as they prepare for this evening's UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2005™ semi-final with tournament minnows Finland.
Never one to be intimidated, however, Finland coach Michael Käld remains quietly confident his side can continue their dream and book an unlikely slot in Sunday's final at Ewood Park, when they take on Germany in a match he describes as "the biggest game in the history of Finnish football".
"For my squad this will be the game of their lives," he told uefa.com. "Just qualifying for this tournament was a real achievement for us but we also knew that if everything went well and all the players stayed fit we could reach the last four. The good news is we just seem to be getting better and better by the game but if we are to beat Germany we know we will have to continue that trend and play to our absolute maximum."
Finland's rise from the international wilderness has been reminiscent of Greece's triumphant journey to the UEFA EURO 2004™ final. Like the Greeks, the Finland team is built on strong foundations, with goalkeeper Satu Kunnas and defenders Sanna Valkonen and Eveliina Sarapää providing the cornerstone of a solid defence. But Käld believes the key to their success has been the character within his squad.
"The girls are definitely fit for a fight," he said. "They like the stadium, they like the pitch and I could not ask for any better spirit in the squad going into this game." Asked if he had any tricks up his sleeve to overcome a Germany side who have won three games out of three and are yet to concede a goal, Käld said: "People talk about them being invincible but we know we have a chance against Germany if we believe in ourselves and take our chances.
"We must continue to defend well as we have done since the second half of our opening match against England and when we attack, we must do so with conviction." The Finns are expected to start with the same team that defeated Denmark 2-1 in their final Group A game, although striker Laura Kalmari will have to undergo a late fitness test after taking a knock to her right knee in training.
Defending champions Germany have no fresh injury doubts going into the fixture, which is being played at a stadium coach Tina Theune-Meyer has called her lucky ground following their four-goal win against Italy and a 6-3 defeat of England in 1998. "We love to play at Deepdale," said Theune-Meyer, who should stick with the XI that beat France so convincingly in Warrington. "We have nothing but great memories of it because every time we play there we score lots of goals."
The entire squad sent their best wishes to full-back Kerstin Stegemann, who has undergone knee surgery after being injured in their victory against Italy. But Theune-Meyer said Stegemann's injury had not affected morale in the camp with the defender telling them to "go out and win it for me". "We know we can win this tournament," Theune-Meyer told uefa.com "But
Finland are well organised and we must not become complacent."
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