Nothing less than winning will do. Germany’s quest for a record fourth European title, only two years after winning a fourth World Cup, begins Saturday against Ukraine in Lille.
”We should write a new story and bring the fourth European Championship star to Germany,” said team manager Oliver Bierhoff, whose golden goal in the 1996 final against the Czech Republic secured a 2-1 win and Germany’s last title.
Germany coach Joachim Loew has at his disposal most of the players that won the 2014 World Cup final in Rio de Janeiro. Jonas Hector, a 26-year-old left back, is the only addition to the squad.
Manuel Neuer, who is likely to captain the side in the Group C opener against Ukraine, said the team would be looking at France’s match against Romania for the opening game before concentrating on its own.
”The atmosphere in the team is very good,” the Bayern Munich goalkeeper said. ”We can hardly wait to get on the pitch.”
Germany’s preparations have been hampered, as has become customary, by injuries, with Borussia Dortmund players Marco Reus and Ilkay Gundogan ruled out with groin and knee injuries, respectively. Roma defender Antonio Ruediger tore a cruciate ligament in his right knee in training on Tuesday, giving Bayer Leverkusen center back Jonathan Tah received a late call-up.
The 20-year-old Tah’s addition ensured Germany will have the youngest side at Euro 2016 with an average age of 25.81 years, marginally younger than England’s squad with an average age of 25.84.
Germany captain Bastian Schweinsteiger returned as a substitute against Hungary last Saturday after almost three months out with his second serious knee injury of the year – there are still doubts over his match fitness – and defender Mats Hummels is still working his way back from a calf injury. Defensive lynchpin Jerome Boateng has fully recovered from his injury problems.
”Basti is fit, making a good impression,” Germany assistant coach Thomas Schneider said Friday at the team’s training base. ”He can be a very important player for us with all his class, with all his experience. He definitely doesn’t yet have the substance over long periods, but as a character he is incredibly important for the team and he’s on the right path.”
Germany has to deal with a few bumps since winning the World Cup, most notably the retirement of defenders Philipp Lahm and Per Mertesacker, and veteran forward Miroslav Klose, the country’s all-time leading scorer with 71 goals.
Qualification for Euro 2016 was not straightforward, with a labored win over Scotland followed by a loss to Poland and a draw against Ireland. Germany then lost to Ireland in the return game in Dublin.
Since qualifying, Germany has lost friendly games to France, England and most recently Slovakia in Augsburg, while beating Italy and Hungary. Nine goals conceded in five games shows Loew has some questions over his defense.
Ukraine is looking to wide men Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka to lead the side in only its second European Championship after qualifying as co-host in 2012. Both wingers are sure to test Hector and whoever Loew decides to employ at right back.
Central defender Yevhen Khacheridi is key to the Ukrainians’ defensive performance, closing down opposing attackers’ space and building from the back, while Dynamo Kiev teammate Denys Garmash provides order in midfield.
”We’re meeting a very physical team. I think they only conceded four goals in qualifying,” Schneider said. ”They’re very compact, very good at switching to attack with two very good wide players, Yarmolenko and Konoplyanka. So there are things we’ve made the guys aware of. We did video coaching with the players this morning so that everyone knows what they have to do.”
Germany has yet to lose in five games, including four competitive matches, against Ukraine.