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May 15, 2008

Germany: A chance for glory

Dealing with pressure has never really been a problem for the German national team, which is just as well given their status as tournament favourites going into the 2008 European Championships.

A quick glance at the record books reveals that Germany boast one of the richest and most successful footballing heritages in the game, both before and after reunification in October 1990.

West Germany have won the World Cup three times in (1954, 1974 and 1990) and finished as runners-up three times (1966, 1982 and 1986), they won the European Championships twice (1972 and 1980) and finished as runners-up (1976). Since reunification Germany have finished as European Championship runners-up in 1992, won the tournament in 1996 and finished as World Cup runners-up in 2002.

Add into the equation a third place finish at the 2006 World Cup, a tournament they hosted, plus a reputation for meticulous preparation and it is easy to understand why the Germans exude confidence despite consistently high expectations.

Germany established their credentials as leading Euro 2008 contenders with their impressive World Cup performance, but by the time they became the first team to qualify for the European Championships their status was duly upgraded to that of favourites to lift the Henri Delaunay Trophy on June 29th.

However, that is not say Germany's qualification was not without its slip-ups.

While there were emphatic wins, like the record 13-0 demolition of San Marino, there was an ignominious 0-0 draw Cyprus and a 3-0 home defeat against the Czech Republic in Munich, albeit after qualification had already been secured.

These blips were the exceptions to an accomplished first campaign in charge for Jurgen Klinsmann's replacement as national team coach, Joachim Löw. With Löw's predecessor opting not to extend his contract, the 48-year-old assumed control in July 2006 and went on to notch the best ever start for a new German head coach with four consecutive wins.

Löw's transient coaching career, which has seen as many lows as highs, began while he was still a player with FC Winterhur in the early 90s where he was in charge of the youth team, then in 1994 came a season as player-coach with FC Frauenfled.

After moving to VfB Stuttgart as assistant coach Löw soon took the hot-seat when coach Rolf Fringer left to lead the Swiss nation team. Having stepped up, Löw enjoyed great success winning the DFB Pokal cup final in 1997, reaching the final of the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1998 and finishing a creditable fourth in the Bundesliga.

In 1998 Löw spent a season in Turkey in charge of Fenerbahce, but then came an ill-fated spell in charge of Karlsruher in 1999, a role from which he was fired after the club were relegated while in his control.

Another spell in Turkey ended in disappointment when Löw lost his job in charge of Adanaspor after a poor run. In 2001 his career took a turn for the better when he led FC Tirol Innsbruck to the Austrian championship, but the club's financial meltdown in 2002 saw him laid off.

A ten-month spell at Austria Wien came to an abrupt end in 2004 when Klinsmann came knocking and offered Löw a role as assistant coach of the German national team.

Klinsmann knew he wanted Germany to embrace an attacking philosophy based on a 4-4-2 formation, but with no coaching experience he turned to the more knowledgeable Löw to be his right-hand man and to translate his theories into tangible tactics; as such, many consider Löw to have been the brains behind the German operation during Klinsmann's short but successful time in charge.

The attacking philosophy established under Klinsmann remains in place under Löw, who is cannily using it to exploit the speed, skill and efficiency of the latest rich crop of young German talent in the likes Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolksi.

Allied to the youngsters there is also a wealth of experience across the squad including the likes of Jens Lehmann, Oliver Neuville and Michael Ballack and Torsten Frings in midfield.

At the back we can expect to see Per Mertesacker and Christoph Metzelder to be ever present features in central defence with Philipp Lahm sure to start in either the left or right back slots, while younger players such as Thomas Hitzlsperger will vie for places alongside more established midfielders.

A bone of some contention in certain circles is that two of Germany's most important squad members are in fact Polish-born and because the two nations have been paired in Group B this summer strikers Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski will represent Germany against the country of their birth.

Despite the socio-political reasons for this, which owe themselves to the Cold War and life before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, both players are likely start the tournament as Löw's favoured strike partners, though Kevin Kuranyi will be pushing them all the way as will Mario Gomez, who scored a remarkable 28 goals in 32 appearances for VfB Stuttgart, not to mention three goals in his last two appearances for Germany.

Germany's Euro 2008 campaign begins with very winnable game against Poland on June 8th in Klagenfurt, next they face the toughest of their Group B games against Croatia, again in Klagenfurt on June 12th, before the last group stage fixture in Vienna against co-hosts Austria.

Interestingly despite their status as favourites Germany do not of have the best of recent records in the Euros, having failed to win a game since emerging victorious from Euro '96 12 years ago; three draws, three defeats and just three goals scored in their six games at the two subsequent tournaments is not too impressive.

However, the fates could be conspiring in Germany's favour; in April 2008 the German Football Association celebrated the 100th anniversary of the German national team's first ever match, a 5-3 defeat to Switzerland.

What more fitting way could there be than for Löw's side to mark the centenary of German international football than by winning Euro 2008 on June 29th?


  • Any thoughts? Then you can email Phil Holland.

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