German efficiency under test

German efficiency under test

German efficiency under test
The German side setting their sights on Euro 2016, 20 years after their last continental trophy, may be completely different from the one that won the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Although coach Joachim Loew has kept a core of the players who won the country's fourth World Cup, he will need to mould them back into a tournament team if they are to knock holders Spain off the champions' pedestal after eight years.

The manager will also need to quickly integrate a group of younger players, including the talented but uncapped Joshua Kimmich and Julian Weigl among others, to deliver a competitive unit.

"We are confident but not arrogant. We are strong but not invincible," Loew said. The manager's biggest headache is his back line where the qualifiers exposed an alarming lack of consistency. Germany conceded five goals in their last four games and left it unexpectedly late to top their group.

Central defender Jerome Boateng has only just come back for Bayern Munich after more than three months out injured. Fellow defender Benedikt Hoewedes also missed much of 2016 through injury, returning to action only weeks ago for Schalke.

Loew has another headache in front of the defence, with captain Bastian Schweinsteiger returning from injury and fellow holding midfielder Ilkay Guendogan already ruled out with a knee cap injury.

"These injuries are a bit of a concern for me," Loew said. "You have such problems before every tournament but I really hope that we now can all remain healthy and those injured at the moment can come back."

Germany's midfield, overflowing with talent, remains awe-inspiring, with players such as Mesut Ozil, Lukas Podolski and Andre Schuerrle jostling for position alongside definite starters Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos.

Thomas Mueller, who has enjoyed his most prolific scoring season at Bayern having produced 20 league goals, will lead their attack along with in-form Mario Gomez and World Cup final scorer Mario Goetze, desperate for games after spending most of the season on the Bayern bench.

Few expect the Germans to have any problems against Ukraine, Northern Ireland and Poland, who beat them once in qualifying, in Group C where they are overwhelming favourites. Beyond that, much will depend on what sort of team Loew can field.

Rare appearance

It has been so long since Northern Ireland appeared at the finals of a major tournament that fewer than a handful of Michael O'Neill's squad had been born when the country last graced the game's greatest stages.

When Billy Bingham led Northern Ireland to the World Cup in 1986, only Roy Carroll, Aaron Hughes and Gareth McAuley were of primary school age as against-the-odds heroics from Pat Jennings, Norman Whiteside and Gerry Armstrong entered into local folklore.

While the cherished memories of days gone by remain strong, manager Michael O'Neill and his team have been busy making history of their own over the last two years.

Qualification for the Euros, achieved as winners of their qualifying group, is not only the country's first appearance at a major event in 30 years, it is also the first time Northern Ireland have ever booked a berth at the continental championship.

"It's been immense," the 46-year-old O'Neill said of the response to his team's qualification. "I look at myself and I'm at an age where I remember 1982 and 1986, but basically anyone under the age of 40 doesn't have that much recollection.

Focus on Lewandowski

 If Poland are to progress beyond the group stages for the first time, their top strikers Robert Lewandowski and Arkadiusz Milik must provide the inspiration so obviously lacking when they crashed out of Euro 2012, the tournament they co-hosted with Ukraine.

On that occasion they finished bottom of their group and now, as the lowest-ranked team in Group C, they will have to be at their best to make it through.

Spearheading Poland will be the Bundesliga's leading scorer Lewandowski, who has scored 47 times for Bayern Munich this season, and Ajax Amsterdam striker Milik, who has netted 24.

Unity lacking

As if Ukraine was not beset with enough problems off the pitch, an unseemly row between two high-profile players is threatening to disrupt the country's campaign.
Taras Stepanenko recently announced that his friendship with Ukraine team mate Andriy Yarmolenko was over after the pair were involved in a spat during a league game this month.

Dynamo Kiev winger Yarmolenko kicked out at the Shakhtar Donetsk star with both players subsequently being dismissed following a melee between the teams who provide the bulk of Ukraine's squad.

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