Germany seek path back to triumphant stability

Paris (AFP) – It is almost impossible to believe that a team with Thomas Mueller, Toni Kroos and Mesut Ozil look vulnerable but Germany will really have to live up to their reputation of raising their game for the big occasion at Euro 2016.

The team that beat Brazil 7-1 as they marched to a World Cup triumph in 2014 have lost seven games since and stumbled toward the European Championship finals where they have a tricky Group C start against Poland, Ukraine and Northern Ireland.

Their 2-0 win against Hungary in their final warm-up was Germany’s first clean sheet for a year.

“It was important to keep them down to nil, the win gives us a bit of stability and a good feeling for next week,” said a relieved coach Joachim Loew after Sunday’s game.

Loew takes his team to France with injury worries.

Captain Bastian Schweinsteiger played only 23 minutes against Hungary and said he doubts he will be able to play all of the opening game against Ukraine on June 12.

Key defender Mats Hummels is doubtful with a calf injury. Winger Marco Reus was left out of the squad because of a groin injury.

Germany follow Ukraine with a difficult encounter against Poland — whom they lost to in the Euro qualifying campaign.

When an under-strength Germany lost 3-1 to Slovakia last week, it should have been a sign of crisis.

But Germany are still the most valuable squad in Europe and Mueller is favourite to top the scorers’ rankings in France. Kroos has been a key player at Champions League winners Real Madrid while Ozil’s passing was back to its brilliant cheeky best against Hungary.

– Mueller not on holiday –

And Germany are known for saving their best for major tournaments. They did not start the World Cup as favourites.

“We’re extremely motivated and want to go as far in the tournament as possible,” said Mueller of the latest challenge.

“We want to go for the title. We have a great spirit so there shouldn’t be any problems with motivation. We’re not going to France for a holiday.”

But the match against a Poland side starring Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski is almost a final in itself.

Having beaten Germany in their qualifying group, a 2-2 draw with Scotland probably cost the Poles top place in the group. Their 33 goal tally was the highest of any team in the qualification contest.

Lewandowski said beating Germany last year had “opened our eyes to the team’s potential.”

Poland remain angry at their disappointing performance four years ago when they hosted the tournament. This time they are determined to make an impact in the knock out stages.

Ukraine, co-hosts in 2012, qualified for the finals for the first time in reaching France. The talent is there but coach Mykhaylo Fomenko has to keep the team united.

The run-up to the finals was marred by a clash between star player Andrey Yarmolenko of Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donetsk’s Taras Stepanenko.

Yarmolenko was upset at the way Stepanenko celebrated a goal and kicked him. A mass brawl ensued. Stepanenko declared his friendship with Yarmalenko was over.

Northern Ireland may have shocked themselves in topping their qualifying group after Greece’s collapse. Despite their courage and work ethic, Group C could be a struggle for Michael O’Neill’s team and his captain Steven Davis.

“It’s a fantastic achievement to be out here but having achieved that we want to leave our mark on the tournament,” the manager said on arriving in Lyon to prepare.

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