If Germany want to move alongside Spain in the pantheon of recent greats, a European Championship win seems necessary.
The world champions lost out to Italy in the semi-finals four years ago and were runners-up back in 2008; now they hope their taste for success can extend to the continental stage and there are few who would confidently back against them.
Joachim Low’s team had a few ups and downs in qualifying, and it has not been a straightforward two years since that extra-time win over Argentina, but their pool of quality remains the envy of almost everybody – and it would be a major surprise if they fell short of the last four, as a bare minimum.
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THE BIG QUESTION
How will Germany cope without the old guard? While the changes since the World Cup have not exactly been wholesale there are some notable absentees, former captain Philipp Lahm and squad mainstay Per Mertesacker having retired from international football. Bastian Schweinsteiger is unlikely to see much playing time in France, too, and experienced heads like these are not easily replaced. Germany have depth and top-level experience in most areas but may not quite be the battle-hardened, sleek side that came out on top in Rio two years ago. Then again, the German mentality is rarely in question when major tournaments come around.
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HOW FAR WILL GERMANY GET AT EURO 2016?
The loss of Borussia Dortmund midfielder Ilkay Gundogan to injury is a blow and will probably mean that the experienced Sami Khedira is trusted alongside Toni Kroos, although the daring option would be to select Gundogan’s brilliant clubmate Julian Weigl.
There are nagging doubts about the quality available at full-back, with Liverpool’s Emre Can among those with a chance of being selected on the right.
Mario Gotze appears to have committed to Bayern Munich and despite a patchy season at club level the World Cup match winner may well start after Marco Reus was ruled out with injury.
THE MANAGER: JOACHIM LOW
Image credit: Imago
“We need two teams for this tournament,” said Low in May. “A team up until the round of 16, and then a second team.” The manager is preparing Germany to face ultra-defensive opponents in Group C and has as wide a pool of players as ever to select from.
Some have suggested that Low, who took the ‘Nationalmannschaft’ job after the 2006 World Cup, has been lucky to inherit a rich seam of Germany talent but he has certainly made use of it and adding a European Championship to their world title might confirm more positive judgments of his worth.
TOP THREE PLAYERS
Thomas Müller mit "Extra-Kick" gegen Dortmund
Image credit: Imago
Thomas Muller: Just as he does for Bayern Munich, Muller pops up everywhere for the national team and it is amazing to think the forward is still just 26. He scored nine goals in qualifying and, whether he starts centrally or wide, is unlikely to be quiet in France.
Mesut Ozil: Like Muller, Arsenal’s assist king seems to have been around forever but he is entering his peak years now and his importance to Germany is undimmed. Ozil has a good scoring record under Low too and will be devastating if given room to express himself.
Jerome Boateng: The Bayern centre-back endured three months out injured early in 2016 but is back to full fitness now. His speed and athleticism will be important facets of a much-changed Germany back line.
SOCIAL MEDIA STAR
Ozil’s life and times are documented across a range of social media. Among snaps from the devout Muslim’s pre-Euro 2016 downtime was a picture of his trip to Mecca, which followed hot on the heels of a holiday in Dubai.
JONATHAN WILSON’S KILLER KNOWLEDGE
The much-vaunted German system turns out gifted midfielders in droves, but they lack full-backs and they lack centre-forwards. With Miroslav Klose retired at last, it may be that Mario Gotze or Thomas Muller is used as a false nine, but Jogi Low recently seems to be tending towards a more orthodox central striker in Mario Gomez.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
Germany won Group D by a point from Poland – and four from third-placed Republic of Ireland – even if they were not always at their best.
A 2-0 defeat in Warsaw made things difficult early on, while they only took a point from the Irish, were given two scares by Scotland and scraped past Georgia at home in their penultimate game.
Low’s side did enough, a 3-1 home win over the Poles proving particularly important, but they will not be able to afford similar slip-ups over the next month or so.
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