Germany training - EURO 2016
Germany’s results have been mixed since their World Cup triumph in Brazil two years ago, the transition from a few key retirees has not been entirely smooth and there is currently a question mark over their defence. Indeed, there have been several other question marks, one of which has related to the team’s concentration levels – which is not supposed to be an issue with German teams. It has felt a little jarring.
But another trusted adage has shaped the countdown to their quest for a fourth European Championship and their mission to create a dynasty; only two nations have previously completed the World Cup/European Championship double – France in 1998 & 2000, and Spain in 2008, 2010 & 2012. It runs along the following lines. It is now tournament time and Germany not only know how to play them but they know how to win them.
The rhetoric that has come from their camp, building up to their opening Euro 2016 Group C fixture against Ukraine in Lille on Sunday night, has been laced with conviction. And it is a conviction that only world champions can exude. Before Brazil, Joachim Löw, the manager, knew that nothing other than victory would suffice. The pressure was enormous but they delivered. It is the same again here – there are no shades of grey. Germany must win and they are here to do so. Moreover, they are not afraid to say it.
“When you are world champions, you go into the European Championship aiming to win it,” the striker Lukas Podolski, says. “That is our target. Winning the World Cup was an amazing feeling. We know how to work at a tournament now – how to prepare, how to play.”
There was a slightly ominous note to Thomas Müller’s words. “In comparison to the World Cup two years ago, we now have a deeper squad with players of the same quality,” the forward says. “So, in that respect, I think we are even stronger than two years ago.”
Germany’s numbers since they beat Argentina in the World Cup final in Rio de Janeiro do not support the notion that they are ready to steamroll their challengers. In 19 matches, they have tasted defeat on seven occasions – including two during qualification; the away losses against Poland and Republic of Ireland. It was only the second time that they had lost two qualifying ties; the first was West Germany’s campaign for Euro 84.
Löw lost the stalwarts Philipp Lahm, Miroslav Klose and Per Mertesacker to retirement after the World Cup and, given their influence on and off the pitch, it has not been straightforward to replace them.
Bastian Schweinsteiger is perhaps not the force he once was and he will miss the Ukraine game through knee trouble, which has raised the question as to who will captain the team. Löw would not say, although he did confirm that Schweinsteiger would remain as the captain for the tournament. “He will be on the pitch during it, no question,” Löw says.
Löw said that he was itching to get on with the action and he must work out how to cope without the central defender, Mats Hummels, who has been ruled out with a calf problem.
Injuries have disrupted Germany – the centre-half Antonio Rüdiger ruptured a cruciate knee ligament in training on Tuesday – and Löw is expected to partner Jérôme Boateng with Shkodran Mustafi, and to play Benedikt Höwedes at right-back. Germany have suffered from lapses at the back – sometimes on set pieces or counterattacks – and Löw admitted that his defensive preparations had not been easy.
“We have had to change the defence throughout the camp and this does not allow great harmony, when they do not play together at their clubs,” Löw says. “But we’ll succeed in letting them know what their tasks are.”
Löw was upbeat, talking about how he now had greater tactical flexibility when compared to the World Cup, in terms of being able to switch to three at the back, and he did not look like a man with the weight of a grand footballing nation on his shoulders. “Germany always suffers from pressure,” he says. “It’s not an issue. Not at all. We can cope.”
This article was written by David Hytner in Paris, for The Observer on Saturday 11th June 2016 20.27 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010