Lille (France) (AFP) – Germany coach Joachim Loew has called on his side to finally start taking their chances as they enter the Euro 2016 knockout phase against Slovakia in Lille on Sunday.
The world champions eased through to the last 16 as winners of Group C by beating Ukraine and Northern Ireland and drawing with Poland.
But while they kept three clean sheets in those games, they found the net just three times. Against Northern Ireland in Paris, they won 1-0 despite having 26 attempts on goal.
“I was not satisfied against Northern Ireland, that is very clear, and neither were the players. We cannot miss so many chances again because we simply won’t have that many anymore,” warned Loew at a press conference on Saturday ahead of the game at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy.
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 just four weeks ago.
“Slovakia are a different team to Northern Ireland. I think they are a lot stronger,” added Loew.
“We are aware of the quality in their side. They defend well and we won’t have much space to play into or a lot of chances, not as many as we did against Northern Ireland.”
Slovakia made it through to the last 16 in their first appearance at the finals as an independent nation, qualifying from Group B as one of the best third-placed teams after holding England to a goalless draw in their last outing.
“In the group stage I was very surprised by them and they played very well against us in Augsburg. They have experienced players at the back but I think we will find ways to cope with that better than England.”
He must decide whether to keep faith in attack with Mario Gomez, who got the winner against Northern Ireland, or restore Mario Goetze to a ‘false nine’ role.
Meanwhile, Jerome Boateng is set to start in central defence after training on Saturday, an indication that he has shaken off the calf knock that forced him off in the second half against the Northern Irish.
There is a sense that the real competition has not yet started for Germany and that translated to a low-key mood as Loew faced reporters on Saturday and to an extent in the city of Lille itself.
– Stay solid –
However, from a Slovakian viewpoint the game is of huge significance as they step deeper into uncharted territory at the tournament.
Jan Kozak’s side have become quite adept at picking up results against more fancied opponents, though, from their defeat of Spain in qualifying to their recent win in Germany and last week’s draw with England.
When asked how his team will approach the game, Kozak made it clear that keeping it tight at the back will be key as they again look to Marek Hamsik to inspire them going forward.
“I don’t think Germany will press us as deep as England did at the end of the match but obviously we need a solid defence because that’s the only way to get a solid result,” Kozak said.
“Recently we have achieved quite a lot of good things and to do that we have needed a good team spirit and togetherness, but we also have players who can make an impact.”
Slovakia are returning to the scene of their only win so far in France, a Hamsik-inspired 2-1 defeat of Russia on June 15. However, after much criticism of the pitch in Lille, a new surface was laid on Thursday.
“It is amazing what you can do in such a short time and I believe that tomorrow (Sunday) it will be in excellent conditions,” Kozak added.
Slovakia defender Peter Pekarik will play despite suffering a bloody nose against England, but fellow defender Dusan Svento is set to miss the game due to injury.
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