Euro 2012: Germany's defense under spotlight
Questions have been raised about the reliability of Germany's defense and the speed of its anchor, Per Mertesacker, whose match experience since February has been limited to two friendlies.
But coach Joachim Loew appears ready to take the risk with the center back for Germany's European Championship opener against Portugal and its star forward Cristiano Ronaldo on Saturday.
Germany's fans were horrified by the 5-3 loss to Switzerland in the first of the two warm-up games before Euro 2012, when Mertesacker looked more like the odd-man-out than the pillar of stability. Then Mertesacker got a new partner in central defense, Holger Badstuber, and things looked a lot smoother in the 2-0 win over Israel.
Mertesacker needed surgery after sustaining an injury to his right ankle playing for Arsenal in February.
Badstuber looked like the winner in the internal competition for a place in the central defense with Mats Hummels, who was Mertesacker's partner against Switzerland.
Hummels won the German double and his team beat and outplayed Bayern Munich comprehensively in all three matches last season.
Badstuber's statistics say he is one of the better passers among Bundesliga defenders and Loew likes his defenders to provide the first pass that will open up Germany's attack. Hummels can produce long passes used by Borussia Dortmund but Loew prefers Bayern's short-passing game.
''Whoever plays will know how to take responsibility,'' Mertesacker said Wednesday. ''We have many options. We've been together for a while and we know what the partner will be doing, which is the most important thing. We know the patterns.
''I've had good rehabilitation, it's good to have had the two matches and I've had good feedback from my body,'' he said. Mertesacker has been using a yoga teacher the Germans have brought in for the first time.
Asked to comment on his perceived lack of speed, Mertesacker said: ''I always thought I was agile, but maybe it was hard to see because of my size (1.98 meters tall).''
Mertesacker said he knew it was a race against time to get fit for the tournament, ''but I had great motivation.''
Badstuber said the competition for places in the starting 11 was great.
''Of course, everyone wants to play. The quality of the squad is very high, we have many positions that can be filled with equally good players. But overall we are a very close team,'' Badstuber said.
On the flanks, Loew is expected to go with Bayern players, captain Philipp Lahm and Jerome Boateng - and both are likely to be out of position.
Lahm began the season in Bayern on the left back, then switched to his more natural right side. Loew has used Lahm on the left, for lack of an alternative, but he could return him to the right to confront Ronaldo on Saturday. Lahm did a good job covering Ronaldo in the Champions League semifinals against Real Madrid.
Boateng plays in the central defense in Bayern. But left back Marcel Schmelzer of Borussia Dortmund had a poor showing against Switzerland.
Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer will be one Germany's biggest assets, although he has not had an error-free season. He stopped Ronaldo's penalty in the semifinal shootout in Madrid that went Bayern's way.
Neuer says Bayern's second straight season without a trophy will not be a factor.
''This tournament comes just at the right time. We have top defenders and the coach will make the right decision. We know we can spread the responsibility around, we know our job,'' he said.
Loew does not neglect his defense, but his concept involves a risky plan based on a quick transition and swift, clever passing to get to the goal as fast as possible.
If Germany loses possession, its forwards start attacking immediately, helping to leave the defense unexposed and to alleviate any shortcomings it may have.