EURO 2012 Preview: Germany ready to end title drought
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Germany has won both the World Cup and the European championship three times, but its last title in either event was back in Euro 1996.
Although the Germans finished second in the 2002 World Cup, third in both 2006 and 2010, and were runner-up in Euro 2008, its 16-year title drought is close to its drought of 18 years between its first World Cup and first Euro titles.
Although no other country can match the overall level of success over the last decade, Germany is not a country that competes for second-best. And if it does come up short this summer, it would enter the 2014 World Cup under pressure.
In Euro 2012, Germany again ranks among the favorites in Poland and Ukraine as it retains the core of its last World Cup team. But, until Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 winners Spain are eliminated, the Germans will be haunted.
Spain defeated Germany in the Euro 2008 final, and then in the semifinals back in the 2010 World Cup.
With the "Group of Death," starting with a game against Portugal on June 9, on the horizon for Euro 2012, Joachim Loew will need to have his side in top form from day one.
Following the opening match, Germany will play the Netherlands, runner-up from the 2010 World Cup, and Denmark in Group B.
It's easily the best group in the event, but Germany is easily the top team in the group. But just advancing from the first stage, which cannot be overlooked this year, is not the goal.
Loew faces more challenges than just the opponents as although the majority of the squad has been together since early May, eight players from Bayern Munich, which lost the Champions League final, joined the team weeks later.
And that contingent includes captain Philipp Lahm and midfield general Bastian Schweinsteiger, not to mention starting goalie Manuel Neuer. In all, all eight Bayern players could feature in the starting lineup for Germany.
Despite concerns about the lack of preparation and lingering effects from the Champions League loss, Lahm was confident "we'll be perfectly prepared for the tournament."
"We've set our sights very high. I can speak for all the Bayern players: we're fired up and ready to play winning football here with the national team."
Loew has still not settled on his starting 11, but it was the same scenario in South Africa four years ago for the World Cup, when an injection of young star players were pieced together to form the most exciting team in the event.
Lahm could play on the right or left side of defense, the other three spots in the back could change, Miroslav Klose or Mario Gomez could be the lone striker and there are players pushing for time at almost every other position.
But what is not a question is the amount of talent at Loew's disposal. It just comes down to picking which player fits where, and for the team to settle down ahead of its first match in the tournament.
Germany expects to kick off another long run against Portugal, preferably this time one that ends with a seventh major title.
Germany has nothing to fear, despite being in the "Group of Death." The German side is one of the most complete teams in the tournament and with a core group of young players, could be primed to set off on a mini-dynasty, should it earn its fourth Euro title this summer. Nothing can be taken for granted in the group stage, and knockout play will present more obstacles, but expect Germany to be there at the end, and mark the end of its title drought.