Injury-hit Germany must rediscover tournament form
BERLIN: 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 ahead of a training camp in Italy.
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 racing to overcome an 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, Marco Reus, Karim Bellarabi, 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.