Has Low cracked Spain's secret? Germany aim for world & European double

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The reigning world champions kick off their Euro 2016 campaign on Sunday against Ukraine aiming to join an elite group of double winners


GOALCOMMENT

Germany have done it before - with victories in 1972 and 1974. But with a new generation, the product of a decade-long revolution, the hunger to be crowned undisputed kings of international football is present.

Joachim Low's side aim to repeat the success of Spain - winners of the 2008 and 2012 European Championships, and the 2010 World Cup - by claiming both major international prizes in successive cycles. Just one other nation has achieved such outstanding dominance, with France collecting the World Cup on home soil in 1998 before snatching Euro 2000 glory from Italian hands.

But since beating Argentina in Rio, almost two years ago, the development of the German national team has been moderate, perhaps even sluggish. The fact that Philipp Lahm, Germany's peerless captain, Per Mertesacker and Miroslav Klose all retired in wake of the World Cup has made the transition somewhat troublesome.

At right-back, Low has regularly experimented, recognizing the glaring weakness in that position. Lahm, capped 113 times and still 32, was admittedly irreplaceable. His technical ability, merged with his versatility, model professionalism and game intelligence was always going to be a loss.

Even hours before Germany's opening fixture in France, the right-back role – expected to be filled by Schalke centre-back Benedikt Höwedes - remains a headache for the 56-year-old coach.

Replacing Mertesacker was manageable given Germany's depth of quality in the position. However, Mats Hummels faces a race against time to be fit for the second group phase game against Poland, a side whose attack caused Germany trouble in qualification. Then, there's Klose: the era-defining centre-forward who scored with impressive regularity in a Germany shirt and holds the all-time record for goals in the World Cup finals.

Low's return to a fluid, striker-less formation - a style dumped in the second phase of the last World Cup - highlights the country's dearth of centre-forwards. If the Germany boss wanted to make such an important tactical pivot halfway through the competition – he has said openly he will change after the group stages – then options are fairly limited. Mario Gomez of Besiktas is the only conventional striker in the squad.

“A new Philipp Lahm is not yet in sight,” Low told German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung before heading to the training camp in Ascona. “Neither is there a type of player like Miroslav Klose who can lead the line and score goals, who can combine with team-mates and is strong in the air. If you look down deep into the youth sides, such players are not available. We want to change.”

This trend is certainly prominent in Europe – and especially in Germany. The Bundesliga, despite its status as a league that develops numerous stars, has produced few centre-forwards since the changes to Germany's youth system came to fruition at the start of the millennium. Mario Gotze, who made only 11 starts at Bayern this season, is the preferred candidate to lead the attack.

The 24-year-old - a creative, dynamic attacking-midfielder by trade - is capable of stamping his mark on this competition as a central forward player. World Cup hero Gotze remains brilliant in spite of his lack of opportunities at Bayern under Pep Guardiola. He is, of course, masterful in his control of the ball, but closer to goal, the German forward grasps space and timing and finishes excellently.

Gotze will be closely supported by Mesut Ozil who will start as Germany's No.10 in the tournament. The Arsenal attacking-midfielder has played in wide positions previously for Germany in major finals, but as Low looks to evolve, that extra guile and awareness is required in the final-third. Toni Kroos has dropped deeper in the absence of Ilkay Gundogan, while Thomas Müller has moved into a wide position.

Germany's diligent preparation in finding a base for the World Cup was perhaps the biggest factor in the country's success. A delegation visited Campo Bahia in north-east Brazil months in advance and the facility cost the German FA around 25 million euros to build. By assessing the nuances like the environment, proximity to the beach and surface quality of the pitch, the Germans had a head on other European teams who weren't sure of what to expect in South America.

Tournament bases are weaved into the vibrant history of German football. In 1954, Germany coach Sepp Herberger picked Lake Thun in Switzerland as the base for the country's historic World Cup win. Recovery was aided by the conditions, and Germany doggedly fought off the great Hungarian side of Ferenc Puskas in the final. More than 60 years on, the Germans are nestled near Lake Geneva with a calming mood around the place and easy, no-fuss transport links.

If the German FA nail the preparation, there's an appreciation that the team will be there-or-thereabouts come July 10 in the Stade de France. Low wants tranquility and cool-headedness while the new additions – Julian Weigl, Joshua Kimmich and Leroy Sane – have an aura of composure and experience well beyond their years. The trio have looked unfazed in high-pressure games, and if needed the Germany coach will have no issues in selecting them.

It's this composure that Low hopes will address a number of defensive questions. Against Northern Ireland and Ukraine, the Germany boss expects a physical battle, demanding full concentration to prevent a lapse in defending the counterattack. Germany have lost three of their last four matches, whilst shipping goals on the break against the Republic of Ireland, Poland and Scotland in qualifying.

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“We are a team that has relied in the past two years very much on our football skills,” said Low, who demands Germany show "traditional" characteristics like discipline, work rate and focus. “But we have other elements that we have to show again. We have to improve in this respect, because we aren't where we were during the World Cup.”

While the coach expects the Germany team to improve, the world champions remain a much-fancied force of the tournament. A good performance in France might not entail winning the prize, though, as Low keeps his eye on Russia 2018.

Winning the World Cup, blessed with the best talent of a generation, is one thing, but staying on top and joining an elite band of teams to clinch both international prizes would cement Germany's place as the kings of football.

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