Euro 2016

A much-changed Germany can take nothing for granted

A lack of striking options means Mario Gotze, Germany's World Cup-winning hero two years ago, is set to start up front against Ukraine despite a patchy season owing to poor form and fitness.
A lack of striking options means Mario Gotze, Germany's World Cup-winning hero two years ago, is set to start up front against Ukraine despite a patchy season owing to poor form and fitness.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

GROUP C

Germany v Ukraine

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LILLE • Germany begin Euro 2016 against Ukraine today with major doubts over whether they can reach the heights of Brazil two years ago.

Their versatile captain Philipp Lahm retired from international football after the team won the World Cup - leaving a gap that coach Joachim Low has found difficult to fill.

A series of injuries have further disrupted Germany's preparation.

Moreover, erratic form in qualifying and in the build-up has eroded confidence in the world champions.

"We've needed to turn one or two screws to make improvements," Low said on Friday. "In a few situations (warm-up games) we weren't particularly dynamic or fresh."

With defender Antonio Rudiger missing out through injury, Mats Hummels may be rushed back to face Ukraine, despite not featuring since tearing a calf muscle playing for Borussia Dortmund in the German Cup final on May 21.

But if he is not fit, Valencia's Shkodran Mustafi or the experienced Benedikt Howedes will partner Jerome Boateng in central defence.

Captain Bastian Schweinsteiger is set to only start on the bench in Lille, having played just 23 minutes of football since the end of March after tearing a knee ligament.

Germany's assistant coach Thomas Schneider insisted that the Manchester United midfielder is fit and highlighted the importance of his leadership. "As a bloke, he is extremely important for us and is on a very good path," he said.

Bayern Munich's Joshua Kimmich is set to complete a meteoric rise this season in Lahm's old position at right-back, with Jonas Hector at left-back.

Up front, Mario Gotze, the scorer of the winning goal in the 2014 World Cup final, looks set to continue, despite a lack of form and fitness restricting him to just seven league starts for Bayern all season.

"Gotze has rediscovered his playing rhythm even though he hasn't played so much recently for his club," said Low. "He can play at the front of or just behind the forward line, which is a great advantage for him."

Ukraine could expose Germany's inexperience at the back via their talented wingers Yevhen Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko.

However, their preparations have been affected by a public bust-up between Yarmolenko and team-mate Taras Stepanenko.

Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Stepanenko was blatantly kicked by Dynamo Kiev's Yarmolenko when the two giants of Ukrainian club football clashed last month.

Yarmolenko was suspended for three matches and fined US$2,000 (S$2,720) over the incident, provoking Stepanenko to say their "friendship is over".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 12, 2016, with the headline 'A much-changed Germany can take nothing for granted'. Print Edition | Subscribe