Germany's young and talented side must live up to the hype and win Euro 2012 to secure their place amongst the great teams of the modern era.
Many fancy this German team to bring the Euro Championship to Germany and de-throne the brilliant Spain of the Kings of Europe, if any team can, it's certainly this one.
There is an aura of expectation around this German team that has not been so evidently present for, arguably, decades. The team that so emphatically dissected England with an attacking and flowing way of play in Bloemfontein back in 2010 and humiliated Argentina came into the World Cup then with little expectation on their shoulders, as a youthful side, mainly all based in Germany, and whom had the freedom to play with no limitations.
Now, after their majestic run to the third placed spot at the World Cup, they enter the competition as second favourites, according to the bookmakers. Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira won moves to Real Madrid following their World Cup exploits and have both improved as a consequence, Miroslav Klose cut his ties with Bayern Munich and left on a free to Lazio and a more delayed transfer was the one of Per Mertesaker, who joined Arsenal last summer.
Yet the team is still mainly all based in Germany, and some new faces have appeared, largely aided by the resurrection of Borussia Dortmund as back-to-back Bundesliga winners. Mario Gotze, Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gundogan, Marcel Schmelzer and Marco Reus - although the latter was at Borrusia Monchengladbach last season - are all inclusions from the Champions, and have an average age of 22 between them, showing that Joachim Low is comfortable in the ability of the new generation replacing players like Michael Ballack, an admirably talismanic figure of previous years for Germany, Arne Friedrich and Torsten Frings.
Low’s decision to only take three strikers has been questioned though. Lukas Podolski, Mario Gomez and tournament goal scoring specialist Miroslav Klose will be in consideration to lead the highly regarded German attacking line in Lviv, in four days time. It may be an efficient piece of management from Low however. Germany play with a 4-2-3-1 attacking line up where, potentially, only one of them could be deployed and, hence, creates space for more of Germany’s sought after midfielders to be in the squad.
Mesut Ozil, a flourishing player at Real Madrid and a key figure in their capture of the La Liga title this season with six goals and 24 assists in all competitions; Thomas Muller, part of the Bayern Munich side that finished a disappointing second in three major competitions this season; Marco Reus, a revelation at Borrusia Monchengladbach, scoring 21 goals and assisting ten during his 37 games this season; Toni Kroos, another part of a top Bayern side who failed to live up to their abilities, but nonetheless, an integral part of his domestic side are just a sample of those who are all going to be fighting for those three berths behind one of the strikers. It is also to note that Andre Schurrle and Lukas Podolski can also play in those positions whilst regular starters Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Kheidra patrol the area in front of defence as holding midfielders.
The depth of options has increased by a respectable amount since the 2010 World Cup side, who were hailed as a “dream team” by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper. Although some players’ national careers declined - reaching their twilight phases - many others have prospered and their attacking options are a testimony to the strength of the Bundesliga, which is rapidly gaining respect for its competitiveness, talent and entertainment. A show of this was Bayern Munich’s Champions League exploits and the pursuit of a number of players by foreign clubs, most notably, Lukas Podolski and Marko Marin, whom have been signed by Arsenal and Chelsea respectively. Another indication of the talent on German shores was the non-inclusion of a number of prospective talents that include Marko Marin, Sven Bender, Lewis Holtby, Gonzalo Castro, Julian Draxler and Marc-Andre TerStegen.
Much like Holland, Germany’s priority will be to make their first form of defence, attack. As with their geographical neighbours, the Germans are not renowned for their world class defence. The emergence of Mats Hummels, regarded as one of the best young centre-backs in Europe and Philip Lahm’s unequalled defensive consistency have done little to calm the worries that they have going into the tournament, particularly with question marks regarding Hummels inability to bring his domestic form to the national stage. A 5-3 friendly defeat to an impressive Switzerland side last week did little to calm the nerves of those apprehensive of the defensive frailties that still exist. An indecision over the central defence partnership has also raised concerns heading into the tournament; Holger Badstuber, Mats Hummels, Per Mertesaker and Benedict Howedes all in contention with no pair showing real solidarity, or enough to convince Joachim Low. The deployment of Jerome Boateng as a full back has also been an unconventional appointment as the chosen full backs, Marcel Schmelzer and Howedes performances have left much to be desired for, with Lahm the only permanent fixture with his timeless class. The establishment of Manuel Neuer as one of the World's best goalkeepers has meant there has been little worries over the position of goalkeeper and this has offered some respite for the overshadowing defensive problems.
The 34 goals that Germany put past their Qualification rivals is a tribute to their attacking philosophies and principles though, which are, undoubtedly, going to be ever present in their pursuit of an elusive title which will put the doubters to rest and affirm this generation of young German stars as one of the finest in the country’s recent footballing history. Their efficiency and reduction in their reliance has been an outcome of Low’s somewhat mini-resurrection of the National Team.
Since he took over in 2006, the average amount of time each player spends in possession of the ball has fallen from 2.8 seconds to 1.1 seconds, yet they like to have high ball retention in order to rest and surge forward again, much like the Spanish. They have confidence in their play and as a youthful side, many question their experience, but all the young players have a lot of domestic experience and some even have a considerable amount at National Team level. This suggests they may play with less restriction and in order to reduce the exposure in defence, play to their strengths and attack more regularly, with a pressing play newly introduced, it is therefore, perhaps, more likely that Klose could be deployed, with Mario Gomez being more of a penalty box predator with less work ethic.
Germany’s time is nigh, with Spain’s David Villa ruled out, there has never been a better time to prove to their critics that they should be held in the same regard as the reigning World and European Champions, and, if any side can, Germany are the side that can snatch the title away from them.