Die Mannschaft start EURO 2016 like champions

There is a myth going around in football that Germany are slow starters at international competitions, only hitting their straps late in tournament play.

Germany's Bastian Schweinsteiger

Source: AAP

Even Ukraine coach Mykhaylo Fomenko said as much going into their opening match of these Euros. Good time to play them, he reckoned.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard it. Yet at the major tournaments of 2014, 2012, 2010, 2008 and 2006, they’ve won each of their first matches. And now 2016.

It was perhaps true once upon a time, at least in the Euros, when they didn’t always fire straight up. Yet in the World Cup, they’ve every opening match since 1986 - so I’m not convinced about the theory in any case.

Maybe Fomenko wanted to put on a bold face, a confident and strident outlook. By full-time in Lille, the coach had dramatically changed his tune.

“Germany are a machine, their team is full of great players,” he said. “There are no surprises with this team. A machine is a machine.”

And how. The machine started at the first turn of Joachim Löw’s key. All he had to do was send them out there.

Don’t be fooled by some of Germany’s more odd results of recent times, including recent defeats to Slovakia and England. Even Australia gave them a rugged showing last year.

This is a team that have set themselves to win this tournament and right the wrongs of four years ago - sensationally choking against Italy, and Andrea Pirlo, in that famous semi-final.

They never had their date with destiny against Spain, which is what every German is dying to see, a ceremonial passing of the baton from one great team to the other. They’ve already got the World Cup and now need the continental title to seal their destiny.

Back to Lille then, where Ukraine actually did give the Germans the odd headache - and Jerome Boateng a backache as he tumbled over clearing the ball off the line.

It wasn’t the most outstanding defensive performance from Germany but it didn’t need to be. That’s one thing they will actually will get better at over the month; nor will Manuel Neuer make stupid challenges like the one that nearly ended in a penalty.

If they can get Mats Hummels back into the side before the end of the group stage, it would allow Benedikt Höwedes to shift from the centre to out wide. Calf injuries are notoriously dangerous but the presence of Hummels is too important.

Not that Jonas Hector was disgraced at left-back, eventually getting the better of Andriy Yarmolenko, a player repeatedly linked with a big money move to the English Premier League.

At the other end, the decision to leave Mario Götze as the lone striker was a sign of great faith from Löw. Too much faith, according to some.

It’s a curious trait of Löw’s - giving players every opportunity, and then another one, to prove themselves. The reason why? Well, it tends to work.

It’s why Miroslav Klose is the all-time leading goal scorer at World Cups, why Lukas Podolski keeps making squad after squad and why a clearly unfit Bastian Schweinsteiger was given another chance - even scoring a nice goal off the bench here. Loyalty and familiarity is everything.

Ironically, the clamour for a player Löw hasn’t historically trusted, Mario Gómez, will get stronger and stronger. Overlooked two years ago, he’s still only 30 and is coming off a season of 26 goals in 33 games for Besiktas - double Podolski’s number in the same league.

If only they had a Robert Lewandowski to call upon, the very player they’ll have to stop in their next match against Poland on Friday morning (AEST).

Still, with Toni Kroos playing out of his skin, Sami Khedira anchoring everything and both Thomas Müller and Mesut Özil on song, it’s a conga line of pure class.

And with 18 shots to seven, plus 67 per cent possession - featuring a staggering 621 completed passes, almost 400 more than Ukraine - it’s clear this German team is here to do the business. Right from the start.

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4 min read
Published 13 June 2016 at 8:00pm
By Sebastian Hassett