Germany, Netherlands on fire ahead of Euros

By Manesh Upadhyaya

The third installment of Manesh Upadhyaya’s weekly pieces previewing each team competing in UEFA Euro 2012.

Germany
Group: B
Manager: Joachim Low
Best Euro finish: Winners 1972 (West Germany), 1980 (West Germany), 1996
Schedule: Germany vs. Portugal on Saturday June 9
                 The Netherlands vs. Germany vs. Germany on Wednesday June 13
                 Denmark vs. Germany on Sunday June 17

A European championship without Germany just wouldn’t feel like a European championship. Prior to this summer’s showpiece, Germany qualified for 10 of the 13 European tournaments since its inception in 1960.

Manager Joachim Low will hope to make amends for his side’s 1-0 Euro 2008 final defeat to reigning European and world champion Spain. Since that night in Vienna, Die Mannschaft has seen much of its old guard replaced by an influx of young players who have made a name for themselves.

“You can see that this new generation of the last one or two years is extremely young, but very vital, ambitious and target-oriented,” Low told UEFA.com. “And of course [they are] also hungry for success.”

15 of the 23 men involved in the 2010 FIFA World Cup have been selected in Low’s provisional squad.

Bayern Munich’s Thomas Muller, Holger Badstuber and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer all drew attention in South Africa – then with an average age of 21. Real Madrid’s Mesut Ozil shone the brightest as he put on a string of stellar performances, simply dismantling England and tearing apart Argentina. Mario Gotze, Borussia Dortmund’s mercurial playmaker, has also burst onto the scene. This will be his first major international tournament if he is named in Low’s final European squad. In August 2011, Germany legend Franz Beckenbauer likened the 19-year-old’s talents to that of Barcelona’s Lionel Messi.

“It’s not possible to stop Mario Gotze,” Beckenbauer told BBC Sport. “He has the same assets as Messi.”

“He runs through opponents as though they aren’t there.”

Experience is always needed when guiding youth. The manager has a headstrong captain in Philipp Lahm – a veteran of four international tournaments.  The Bayern captain will most likely be accompanied by club teammate Mario Gomez. Gomez’s predatory instincts in front of goal have been instrumental in Bayern’s German Cup and UEFA Champions League campaigns. Lazio’s Miroslav Klose is also fighting for a place in the final squad. The ex-Bayern striker stated his case by scoring nine times in six qualifiers and has a knack for scoring crucial goals for the national team.

Low’s mixture of young and old is producing a blend of football that is aged almost to perfection.

The three-time European champions won nine out of their last 10 matches, including a 3-2 win over Brazil and a 3-0 triumph over the Netherlands. The neo-German attacking football philosophy is stamped all over the team. Defenders are not shy to push forward while the midfielders pull the strings. To top it all off, the strikers can score at will. The team scored 34 goals in qualifying – the second most out of all competitors – and five out of the seven strikers used bagged three goals or more.

Final Verdict
While viewed as a clear-cut finalist, does Germany possess what it takes to add a fourth European cup to its trophy cabinet? I certainly think so. At the moment Die Mannschaft is on fire. Everything seems to be going well for the team.  A flawless qualifying campaign under its belt, a club rich in German talent playing in the Champions League final and a new generation of players will contribute to Low’s men’s run to the final in Kiev. They have placed second and third in their last two major tournaments, respectively, and it’s only fitting that they finally get the job done.

The Netherlands
Group: B
Manager: Bert van Marwijk
Best Euro finish: Winners 1988
Schedule: The Netherlands vs. Denmark on Saturday June 9
                The Netherlands vs. Germany vs. Germany on Wednesday June 13
                Portugal vs. The Netherlands on Sunday June 17

Like Germany, the last major final the Netherlands reached ended in a 1-0 loss to Spain. Manager Bert van Marwijk’s squad responded well to defeat by winning nine of its 10 Euro 2012 qualifiers. These results have brought a renewed hope to Oranje supporters, whose hearts were crushed after the 2010 World Cup final.

The team managed to score 37 goals in the process, giving their fans something more to cheer about. Schalke forward Klaas Jan Huntelaar finished as top scorer in the Bundesliga, while Arsenal striker Robin van Persie is on course to achieve the same feat in England, unless Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney has his way.

The Dutch duo combined superbly to score goals, attaining almost half of the team’s tally in qualifying. Uncanny numbers, especially since they have only played together in four qualifiers.
 
Van Persie, surely in his manager’s plans for the tournament, will be heading to Poland and Ukraine with two new pieces of silverware already in the bag: This season’s Professional Footballers’ Association Players’ Player of the Year award and the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year award.

Can the Flying Dutchmen continue to weave their magic this summer? We shall have to wait and see. Van Persie is by far the team’s danger man and if he can form a comfortable partnership with Huntelaar, there’s no telling what could become of it.

The team has been placed in arguably the toughest group in Euro 2012 – featuring Denmark, Germany and Portugal – hence the nickname “Group of Death”. The Oranje is no stranger to difficult groups. In the 2006 World Cup it faced Argentina, the Ivory Coast and Serbia and Montenegro. Four years ago, it was handed a group stage draw including then reigning world champion Italy, World Cup finalist France and Romania.

Van Marwijk won’t have too much to say in order to motivate his team as the Netherlands share an interesting history with each one of the teams in its group.

The opener on June 9 against Denmark brings back memories of Euro ’92, where the Dutch were ousted in the semifinals by the Danes who won on penalties. The historic and emotional feud with Germany needs little elaboration. Its roots stemming from the German occupation of Holland in World War II, the German-Dutch rivalry always produces a heated contest. The most recent competitive fixture between the two was in the Euro 2004 group stage, which ended in a 1-1 draw.  The Netherlands have not faced Portugal since the 2006 World Cup round of 16. The match produced 16 yellow cards and a record four red cards – two for each team. Portugal went on to win the ugly affair 1-0.

Final Verdict
Even with two of the world’s top scorers in their respective leagues, I do not believe the Netherlands will win its group. Germany is too powerful a threat in all areas of the pitch. I do expect the team to topple Portugal and take the second place spot. There are a lot of egos in the squad and this could pose problems late in the tournament. There is no question regarding the talent on show, but team unity could prove to be a bigger obstacle than some of the opponents they face. Van Marwijk’s side can beat any team in Group A, so a passage to the semifinals is a strong possibility. Though, just like Euro ’92 the semifinal stage is as far as they will go.

Manesh Upadhyaya can be reached at maneshupadhyaya@gmail.com or on Twitter @ManeshUPADHYAYA