Lille (France) (AFP) – Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer believes the world champions can put a slow start to Euro 2016 behind them and thrive under the pressure of knockout football when they face Slovakia on Sunday.
Joachim Loew’s side progressed to the last 16 as winners of Group C, beating Ukraine and Northern Ireland, drawing with Poland and all without conceding a single goal.
But Neuer knows better is expected from the Germans at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille as they face a Slovak side appearing at this stage of a Euro for the first time since independence.
“We have played three teams who pack everyone behind the ball. We didn’t have much space and in games like these it’s not easy to win by a large margin,” said Neuer after Germany mustered just three goals in the group phase.
“Beating the likes of Ukraine and Northern Ireland does not merit us shouting out with joy. It is not easy to beat these teams but we got the job done.
“We finished top of our group and so we have stuck to our route map. But now we are into straight knockout football and anything can happen.
“But we are very good at focusing when it really matters, as we have seen in past competitions. We will be 100 percent on it and we know people are expecting us to perform.”
Despite topping their group, Germany have found themselves on the toughest side of the draw and will play either reigning champions Spain or bogey team Italy if they make it through to the quarter-finals.
But they must first be wary of Slovakia, who unsettled Loew’s side in the build-up to the tournament by winning a friendly 3-1 in Augsburg.
Those were the last goals Neuer conceded and he knows Germany need to be especially wary of Slovakia star Marek Hamsik, who was among the scorers in that game.
“Everyone knows about Hamsik’s ability to shoot from range. He scores some great goals at Napoli with those,” Neuer said.
“In the group phase he didn’t often get into forward positions. It’s important that our midfielders disturb the rhythm of his game early on. But we shouldn’t focus on just one player, we need to look at our opponents as a whole.”
– ‘Cool and calm’ –
All eyes will be on Loew’s selection decisions in defence, with centre-back Jerome Boateng struggling with a calf knock and youngster Joshua Kimmich hoping to keep his place at right-back after impressing there against Northern Ireland.
“He’s very cool and calm. We knew in advance that we could rely on him,” said Neuer about his 21-year-old Bayern colleague Kimmich.
After much criticism of the pitch in Lille, a new surface was laid on Thursday but neither team was allowed to train on it on the eve of the game.
Germany will therefore stage their final practice session at their base in Evian near the Swiss border before flying to northern France on Saturday.
Slovakia will do likewise at their camp in Vichy, central France, prior to returning to the scene of their Hamsik-inspired win against Russia in the group phase that paved their way to the last 16.
Jaz Kozak’s side held England in Saint-Etienne in their last match to advance from Group B as one of the best third-placed sides. They famously beat Spain in qualifying and their recent exploits in beating the Germans means they come into this rematch with confidence.
“They have great quality and this will be a very demanding match, but we played them a few weeks back and won on their home ground,” winger Vladimir Weiss told UEFA.com.
“Of course it will be a different match, but I think that at the level the competition has now reached, the standard is quite even and I think every team is capable of beating every other team.”
Robert Mak should be fine despite a hamstring problem and Peter Pekarik will not wear a protective mask on his broken nose, but fellow defender Dusan Svento is out.
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