EURO 2016: 3 DAYS TO GO | GROUP PREVIEW

Football: Germans take flexible approach

With Gomez back as a No. 9, coach Low has more options in both attack and defence as underdogs vary their strategies

BERLIN • When the German coaching staff met this spring in preparation for Euro 2016, they were, as usual, joined by Urs Siegenthaler.

The former Swiss coach and player travels around the world on behalf of the DFB (German Football Association) and keeps a keen eye on the latest developments in international football.

He is also a good friend of head coach Joachim Low. They talked at length about Leicester City and Atletico Madrid and what their respective success means in regard to the tournament in France.

"The game is undergoing a bit of a change and we're still struggling to catch up. We'll have to develop strategies to cope," Siegenthaler said.

What he meant is that at the tournament of 24 teams, the German side will have to deal with a lot of so-called underdogs trying to emulate Leicester and Atletico.

  • C

    June 13, midnight (S’pore time)

    Poland v N. Ireland

    June 13,3am

    Germany v Ukraine

    June 17, midnight

    Ukraine v N. Ireland

    June 17, 3am

    Germany v Poland

    June 22, midnight

    N. Ireland v Germany

    June 22, midnight

    Ukraine v Poland

These teams will not necessarily go into a defensive shell, but they will be happy to mostly relinquish possession to their opponents.

The evolution of the German team under Low in the last few years was based on having the ball as much as possible. They preferred a style reliant on possession and a strong midfield.

These days, however, a lot of teams are not all that bothered with having the ball.

They leave the passing game to their opponents and focus on quick counter-attacks.

As a result, the international game has seen the renaissance of the traditional centre-forward, and with it the return of Mario Gomez after an absence of almost two years.

Often injured and written off by many as a technically limited one-dimensional striker, he is back after a strong season at Turkish side Besiktas that saw him win the honours as the leading scorer in the Turkish league as well as the championship.

Gomez is a proper No. 9 in the era of the false 9, a man who brings the sledgehammer when all else fails.

Having the 30-year-old on board gives Low the option of deploying a traditional three-man attack with proper wingers.

And do not be surprised if the coach continues another experiment - their 4-1 win over Italy in March saw Germany going back to a three-man defence.

So the traditional 4-2-3-1, which originated in the 1990s, could transform into a 4-3-3 or even a 3-4-3.

"The air is getting thinner. We are the world champions, it's all about the little things now," says Siegenthaler.

Above all, it will be about finding ways to crack defensive opponents without falling victim to the likes of England's Jamie Vardy.

However, Low has another headache in front of his defence, with captain Bastian Schweinsteiger racing to overcome an injury and fellow holding midfielder Ilkay Gundogan already ruled out with a knee-cap injury.

"These injuries are a bit of a concern for me," the coach 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.

"We are confident but not arrogant. We are strong but not invincible."

In Group C, Northern Ireland are proving to be a formidable force, having topped their qualifying group ahead of the likes of Romania and Hungary.

Poland boast an extremely potent attack with Robert Lewandowski, the Bayern Munich striker who was the top scorer of the Bundesliga last season with 30 goals.

Plying his trade in Germany, Lewandowski is familiar with the style of play, especially with five of his Bayern team-mates in the German squad.

Ukraine have star wingers in Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka, who can also contribute with the odd goal from set pieces.

However, few would expect the Germans to have any problems in Group C, where they are overwhelming favourites.

Beyond that, much will depend on what sort of team Low can field.

THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS


Germany

Although coach Joachim Low has kept a core of the players who won the 2014 World Cup, he will need to mould them back into a tournament team if they are to knock holders Spain off the champions' pedestal.

He will also need to integrate a group of younger players, including Joshua Kimmich and Julian Weigl, to deliver a competitive unit.

The manager's biggest headache is his inconsistent backline. Germany conceded five goals in their last four games and left it unexpectedly late to top their qualifying group.

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

Fifa ranking: 4

Manager: Joachim Low

Squad - Goalkeepers: Manuel Neuer, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Bernd Leno. Defenders: Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Jonas Hector, Shkodran Mustafi, Antonio Rudiger, Joshua Kimmich, Benedikt Howedes. Midfielders: Emre Can, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira, Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil, Julian Draxler, Julian Weigl, Leroy Sane, Mario Gotze, Andre Schurrle. Forwards: Thomas Muller, Lukas Podolski, Mario Gomez.

Key player: Toni Kroos. The 26-year-old World Cup winner has emerged as the brain of Real Madrid, steering Zinedine Zidane's team to the European Cup win with a string of eye-popping statistics, including a completion rate of 90 per cent from close to 1,000 passes.

REUTERS


Northern Ireland

Qualification for Euro 2016, achieved as winners of their qualifying group, is not only the country's first appearance at a major event in 30 years, but also the first time Northern Ireland have ever booked a berth at the continental championship.

Along the way, Michael O'Neill has steered the team on a run of 10 consecutive games without defeat, a record achieved with a 1-0 win over Slovenia at the end of March.

Built on a strong team ethic that O'Neill has instilled within a squad drawn from across the various divisions of English and Scottish football but which boasts the Premier League core of Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans and Steven Davis, the former Newcastle midfielder takes his team to France in buoyant mood.

Fifa ranking: 25

Manager: Michael O'Neill

Squad - Goalkeepers: Michael McGovern, Roy Carroll, Alan Mannus. Defenders: Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans, Craig Cathcart, Conor McLaughlin, Luke McCullough, Shane Ferguson, Lee Hodson, Aaron Hughes, Chris Baird. Midfielders: Oliver Norwood, Steven Davis, Stuart Dallas, Paddy McNair, Niall McGinn, Corry Evans. Forwards: Kyle Lafferty, Jamie Ward, Conor Washington, Josh Magennis, Will Grigg.

Key player: Kyle Lafferty. His goal-scoring exploits helped to secure Northern Ireland a place at Euro 2016 and made him a firm fan favourite. He struck seven times in nine appearances in qualifying for the Finals to fire Northern Ireland to first place in Group F, ahead of Romania and Hungary, and their debut appearance at the European Championship.

REUTERS


Poland

Poland Football Association chief Zbigniew Boniek, one of the country's greatest players, has said his side will revel in their underdog status, even though it will be the country's third straight appearance in the European Championship Finals.

Leading the line will be the Bundesliga's top scorer Robert Lewandowski, who has scored 47 times for Bayern Munich this season, and Ajax Amsterdam striker Arkadiusz Milik, who has netted 24 goals.

On paper, the two look to be one of the tournament's most lethal striking partnerships, after powering Poland to the Finals with 19 goals.

Fifa ranking: 27

Manager: Adam Nawalka

Squad - Goalkeepers: Lukasz Fabianski, Wojciech Szczesny, Artur Boruc. Defenders: Thiago Cionek, Lukasz Piszczek, Kamil Glik, Michal Pazdan, Bartosz Salamon, Jakub Wawrzyniak, Artur Jedrzejczyk. Midfielders: Krzysztof Maczynski, Piotr Zielinski, Grzegorz Krychowiak, Jakub Blaszczykowski, Bartosz Kapustka, Karol Linetty, Tomasz Jodlowiec, Filip Starzynski, Slawomir Peszko. Forwards: Arkadiusz Milik, Robert Lewandowski, Kamil Grosicki, Mariusz Stepinski.

Key player: Robert Lewandowski. Few strikers in Europe can match his astonishing scoring record which will leave Germany particularly wary of facing the Bundesliga's leading scorer when the two countries meet in their second group game. Encouragingly for Poland, he has been equally clinical in qualifying for Euro 2016, scoring 13 goals to equal the tournament record set by Northern Ireland's David Healy.

REUTERS


Ukraine

As if Ukraine were not beset with enough problems off the pitch, an unseemly row between two high-profile players is threatening to disrupt the country's Euro 2016 campaign.

Shakhtar Donetsk's Taras Stepanenko recently announced that his friendship with Dynamo Kiev's Andriy Yarmolenko was over after the pair were involved in a spat during a Ukrainian league game between their two sides last month.

Both players have since shook hands and made up but manager Mykhaylo Fomenko faces a tough challenge to lead his embattled team out of their group.

Fifa ranking: 19

Manager: Mykhaylo Fomenko

Squad - Goalkeepers: Andriy Pyatov, Denys Boyko, Mykyta Shevchenko. Defenders: Vyacheslav Shevchuk, Oleksandr Kucher, Yevhen Khacheridi, Yaroslav Rakitskyi, Artem Fedetskyi, Bohdan Butko. Midfielders: Yevhen Konoplyanka, Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, Ruslan Rotan, Taras Stepanenko, Denys Harmash, Serhiy Sydorchuk, Viktor Kovalenko, Oleksandr Karavayev, Serhiy Rybalka, Oleksandr Zinchenko. Forwards: Andriy Yarmolenko, Roman Zozulya, Pylyp Budkivskyi, Yevhen Seleznyov.

Key player: Andriy Yarmolenko. He played a decisive role in reaching France, scoring four times in the qualifying campaign, and twice more in the 3-1 aggregate play-off win over Slovenia. The 26-year-old has been equally prolific for his club, scoring 19 times in a season which saw Dynamo Kiev win their second successive title.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 07, 2016, with the headline 'Germans take flexible approach'. Print Edition | Subscribe