Germany downplays Euro 2012 expectations
KIEV, Ukraine (AP)
Billed as the nation most capable of ending Spain's reign as European champions, Germany could have an unusually tough time just getting out of the group stage at Euro 2012.
In one of the most anticipated matchup of the tournament's first phase, Germany was handed a tantalizing duel against its fiercest and nearest rival, the Netherlands, in Friday's draw. If that wasn't a big enough challenge, next June, three-time champion Germany was also pooled with Portugal and Denmark in Group B - widely seen as by far the toughest of the tournament.
''I've seen all the coaches in our group, and none of them looked happy,'' Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk said.
Germany team manager Oliver Bierhoff, though, sees an upside to the tough competition.
With his youthful team swimming in plaudits since impressing during its run to the 2010 World Cup semifinals, Bierhoff said the draw is ''very good to cool the recent euphoria.''
Bierhoff knows all about winning a European title, having scored both goals in a 2-1 victory against the Czech Republic in the 1996 final to give the Germans their third continental crown.
After opening against Portugal on June 9, Germany faces the Netherlands four days later before rounding off the group stage against Denmark on June 17.
''We have a very tough group, perhaps the toughest group in the tournament,'' Bierhoff said. ''We will be well prepared and have the quality to beat all the teams. It could be the worst group on paper, especially also with the rivalry that we have with Holland.''
Germany and the Netherlands have faced off eight times in major tournaments, winning three games each and drawing the other two matches.
But Germany outclassed the Netherlands 3-0 in a friendly last month - a defeat Van Marwijk branded ''embarrassing.''
''Germany didn't drop a point in qualifiers and our last meeting in Hamburg was a clear warning,'' Netherlands captain Mark van Bommel said.
The Dutch, who won Euro '88 after beating Germany in the semifinals, must open against Denmark just as they did at the World Cup where they reached the final, losing to Spain.
''Denmark is 11th in the FIFA rankings and is our 'weakest' opposition,'' Van Marwijk said. ''But they finished ahead of Portugal in qualification.''
And stifling Portugal winger Cristiano Ronaldo will be key - as the Germans discovered when eliminating them in the Euro 2008 quarterfinals.
''Every time it is hard and difficult to play against him,'' Bierhoff said. ''We did very well in 2008. We will have to see how we do it now. The best thing would be not to let him get the ball so he doesn't have the space or the time to make all those tricks. For this, we have time now.''
And the Germans have time to continue maturing, having swept through qualifying with a perfect record.
''We are more experienced and more grown up (since the World Cup),'' Bierhoff said. ''We have the choices of two or three other new players like Toni Kroos. So I think we grew during the qualification. You could see that. But you still have to win a tournament to be a big team.
''It helps that our young players get experience in the Champions League at the big clubs. You can see that especially with Mesut Oezil or with Sami Khedira (at Real Madrid). When they are together with the best players in the world they become better too and also so does the performance of the team.''
Rob Harris can be reached at http://twitter.com/RobHarrisUK