Despite being the bookmakers second favourites for the tournament, the feeling persists that perhaps Germany (that’s reigning World Champions Germany) are a team in decline, or at best, one in transition. Could it be that Die Mannschaft lack confidence as the Bundesliga has descended into a one-horse race and the Champions League has remained out of reach for Bayern despite their domestic dominance?
With arguably the world’s best (or at least most intimidating) goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and a defence that seems to have overcome the retirement of Phillip Lahm, it is hard to see cause for concern (other than the late withdrawal of the promising Antonio Rudiger).
Thomas Muller remains a charmingly enigmatic forward and is sure to add to his wealth of tournament goals. Meanwhile Mesut Ozil and Toni Kroos are such established stars that they’re almost under the radar amid the race to identify the next tournament sensation. But, with Mario Gotze out of form and Miroslav Klose now retired from International football (Oh Miroslav!), Mario Gomez is the most orthodox front player available. Many wily scribes have drawn comparisons with England’s relative abundance of attacking options, but will they be laughing on the other side of their faces if Super-Mario emerges as top scorer at the tournament?
There are many clichés about “The Germans”, but what has been proven since the turn of the millennium is that Germany have players that rise to the occasion for major tournaments and now have a production line of ‘next big things’ at their disposal. It remains to be seen however if Joachim Löw has managed to strike the right balance between loyalty and sentimentality with the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger still making the final cut.
The 24 team format, and generous dispensation to third place finishers may give the impression that the bigger teams will have a fairly languorous stroll through to the semi-finals. Germany do have what could be a tough group tie against neighbours Poland, and will be keen to avenge the defeat in qualifying. While there appears to be no threat to them emerging from the group, there is the prospect of a serious test in the quarter-final with Belgium or Italy lying in wait. Despite injuries to Marchisio and Bonucci, the Italians look solid, and it will be no small achievement if Kroos and co. can overcome Antonio Conte’s team to become the first German side to beat Italy in a major tournament.
But enough of the nae-saying. With the likes of Leroy Sane and an in-form Julian Draxler in the squad and their reputation for choking resoundingly put to bed in Rio, as Alan Hansen loved to say, “you should never write off the Germans.”
Andrew, The Sweeper Football Blog