Runners-up in the 2008 Euros and third at the World Cups of 2006 and 2010, Germany may have turned the glorious near-miss into an art form in recent tournaments but you will be hard pushed to find anyone back home complaining about the “bridesmaid syndrome”.
After plumbing the depths at Euro 2000 – in which they failed to win a single match and suffered ignominious first-round elimination –root-and-branch reform of the domestic youth development system has, bit by bit, restored the team to their elite status. And supporters are convinced the current line-up, crammed with young lions, is merely at the beginning of an awe-inspiring cycle as Germany try to claim their first international title since Euro 96.
Indeed, if a survey by leading sports magazine Kicker is to be believed, Germany will sweep the board. More than two-thirds of respondents expect skipper Philipp Lahm to lift the trophy in Kiev on July 1, with fans equally confident brilliant young creative midfielder Mesut Ozil and striker Miroslav Klose will be crowned player of the tournament and top scorer respectively.
It’s almost as if a brutally tough first-phase draw – matched with Holland, Portugal and Denmark – passed the country by.
While such vox pop exercises can easily be bent out of shape by patriotism and insularity, not by any stretch of the imagination were these poll results born solely out of blind faith.
The Class of 2012 is very much a force to be reckoned with and comprehensively proved it on the road to the finals, winning 10 games out of 10 and generally sauntering through with an attractive mixture of guile and swagger.
Reasons for German optimism come in all shapes and sizes. Some point to the surfeit of firepower in Klose, Ozil, Mario Gomez, Thomas Muller and Lukas Podolski; others stress the country’s time-honoured tournament know-
how, with their ability to prepare meticulously and then cleverly plot their way through a competition. Others think the biggest trump card is their young talent, the best generation to emerge in Germany for many a year – the fresh-faced class of Ozil, Muller, Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, Sami Khedira, Jerome Boateng and Holger Badstuber, with other wunderkinder such as Mario Gotze, Marco Reus and Toni Kroos bubbling under.
With an average age of just 24.9 years, this is the youngest Germany squad since way back in 1934, and their vitality, total lack of fear and eagerness to please is undoubtedly at the heart of the huge wave of national feel-good factor they benefit from at the moment.
What Germany also have going for them is the astute team-building, wily tactical shape-shifting and clever man-management of coach Joachim Low. In six years as Bundestrainer, “Jogi”, as he is known, has been responsible for a style revolution that is miles away from the old recipe based on industry, playing in straight lines and winning ugly.
Using one or two touches and brimming with fluidity and invention, Germany can now entertain with the best, and it was no surprise when Spain boss Vicente Del Bosque described them as the “best football-playing German team I’ve ever seen”.
The outlook is not cloudless, however. Even Low would have to admit he has yet to settle on a stable back four, while some of his most influential players are struggling with injury or a shortage of playing time at club level.
Bastian Schweinsteiger has missed a chunk of the season with shoulder and ankle problems, Klose and Per Mertesacker have also been sidelined with injuries, while Khedira is far from an automatic starter at Real Madrid.
There is still much for Low to ponder before the big kick-off.
EURO 2012 FIXTURES
09.06.12 Portugal (Lviv, Ukr)
13.06.12 Holland (Kharkiv, Ukr)
17.06.12 Denmark (Lviv, Ukr)
EURO 2012 SQUAD
1 Manuel Neuer (26) 27.03.86 Bayern Munich
12 Tim Wiese (30) 17.12.81 Hoffenheim
22 Ron-Robert Zieler (23) 12.02.89 Hanover
14 Holger Badstuber (23) 13.03.89 Bayern Munich
20 Jerome Boateng (23) 03.09.88 Bayern Munich
4 Benedikt Howedes (24) 29.02.88 Schalke
5 Mats Hummels (23) 16.12.88 Borussia Dortmund
16 Philipp Lahm (28) 11.11.83 Bayern Munich
17 Per Mertesacker (27) 29.09.84 Arsenal (Eng)
3 Marcel Schmelzer (24) 22.01.88 Borussia Dortmund
15 Lars Bender (23) 27.04.89 Bayer Leverkusen
19 Mario Gotze (20) 03.06.92 Borussia Dortmund
2 Ilkay Gundogan (21) 24.10.90 Borussia Dortmund
6 Sami Khedira (25) 04.04.87 Real Madrid (Spa)
18 Toni Kroos (22) 04.0190 Bayern Munich
13 Thomas Muller (22) 13.09.89 Bayern Munich
8 Mesut Ozil (23) 15.10.88 Real Madrid (Spa)
21 Marco Reus (23) 31.05.89 Borussia Dortmund
9 Andre Schurrle (21) 06.11.90 Bayer Leverkusen
7 Bastian Schweinsteiger (27) 01.08.84 Bayern Munich
23 Mario Gomez (26) 10.07.85 Bayern Munich
11 Miroslav Klose (33) 09.06.78 Lazio (Ita)
10 Lukas Podolski (27) 04.06.85 Arsenal (Eng)
Joachim Low (52) 03.02.60
… goalkeeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen and 18-year-old Julian Draxler, who made their international debuts in the 5-3 loss to Switzerland, missed out on the final squad of 23, along with Sven Bender and Cacau …
EURO 2012 QUALIFYING CAMPAIGN
03.09.10 Belgium (a) 1-0
07.09.10 Azerbaijan (h) 6-1
08.10.10 Turkey (h) 3-0
12.10.10 Kazakhstan (a) 3-0
26.03.11 Kazakhstan (h) 4-0
03.06.11 Austria (a) 2-1
07.06.11 Azerbaijan (a) 3-1
02.09.11 Austria (h) 6-2
07.10.11 Turkey (a) 3-1
11.10.11 Belgium (h) 3-1
P W D L F A Pts
Germany 10 10 0 0 34 7 30
Turkey 10 5 2 3 13 11 17
Belgium 10 4 3 3 21 15 15
Austria 10 3 3 4 16 17 12
Azerbaijan 10 2 1 7 10 26 7
Kazakhstan 10 1 1 8 6 24 4
By Nick Bidwell