With the first round of matches concluded at Euro 2012, two sides have shown already that they are serious contenders for the championship crown this summer.
One of those teams, Russia, came into the tournament as underdogs in many respects, with much of the pre-tournament hype surrounding the likes of Spain, Holland and France.
However, Dick Advocaat’s side brushed a decent Czech Republic outfit away with an emphatic 4-1 victory, alerting the rest of the continent to their vast potential.
Alan Dzagoev is a player to watch, whilst captain Andrei Arshavin remains the heartbeat of the side in an attacking sense despite a number of poor performances in the colours of Arsenal over the last 18 months. Roman Pavlyuchenko, another player who flattered to deceive in the Premier League, also seems to deliver for his country more than his club.
Whilst Ukraine and Denmark produced wins in the opening round of fixtures as well, their title credentials remain unknown.
The Danes still have plenty to do in ‘the group of death’, irrespective of how impressive their win over the Netherlands was, whilst the same can be said of an Andriy Shevchenko-inspired co-host, who still have to face France and England in Group D.
One nation that doesn’t have to prove its credentials in major competition is Germany however, with Joachim Loew’s side again finding form at the right time in a major competition.
A team full of young, inexperienced players made it all the way to the semi-finals at the World Cup in South Africa two years ago, and will be looking to go one step further in Poland & Ukraine this time around.
With a rich history in tournament football, expectation is always high when it comes to the national ‘Mannschaft’.
West Germany won the World Cup three times (1954, 1974, 1990) and European Championships twice (1972, 1980), whilst the nation celebrated as one in 1996 when Jurgen Klinsmann inspired his country past England and then the Czech Republic when football nearly came home for the Three Lions.
A period of mediocrity followed, something this great football nation isn’t used to. Whilst Oliver Kahn and Michael Ballack helped hide the cracks, two group stage exits at Euro 2000 and 2004 suggested all wasn’t well.
Klinsmann took over the managerial duties for his country in time for the home World Cup of 2006, and their run to the semi-final with the likes of Phillip Lahm, Lukas Podolski, Miroslav Klose and Bastian Schweinsteiger in the side raised expectation levels once again.
Assistant Loew took over as head coach post-World Cup, and continued the rejuvenation process that was started by the former Tottenham striker and current USA manager.
More quality young players have come through the ranks to join those aforementioned four, with Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, Mesut Ozil and Mario Gotze four of the best. Indeed, striker Mario Gomez is hardly ‘old’ at 26.
It all bodes well for Germany in the long-term, but more importantly than that the short-term too.
The current squad – with a starting XI made up of seven Bayern Munich players in the first Group B match against Portugal – is largely built on the same foundations laid over the past two years.
Recent friendly defeats to France and Switzerland count for little when it truly matters, and qualification from Group A for this competition was made to look all too easy despite the challenges of Turkey and Belgium. They won 10 out of 10.
And, in one of the toughest tournament openers in recent times, Germany showed just why they are one of the favourites to win the whole thing with a 1-0 victory over Portugal.
Whilst the performance wasn’t vintage, it was everything you’d expect from Germany and ended with three points. That’s all that matters at this stage. Playing nice football doesn’t guarantee you anything.
Solid at the back, Neuer is one of the best keepers in world football. Hummels, who helped Borussia Dortmund to a double last season, was imperious on tournament debut, whilst Lahm is always dependable for club and country.
Creativity mixed with stability runs through the midfield, with Real Madrid duo Ozil and Sami Khedira mixing class and work-rate alongside the ever-affective Schweinsteiger.
Then there is the attacking threat, with Gomez, Podolski and Thomas Muller all capable of scoring when it matters.
Put all that together, and you have a side that's a serious danger to everyone, not just the Dutch and Danish – who are still to face this machine in Group B. The fact Holland now need to win on Wednesday night adds extra spice to that particular clash.
Chasing a result against Germany is a position you do not want to be in, but that's exactly where Burt Van Marwijk's side find themselves.
Winning Group B will also mean a softer passage into the semi-finals, with the runner-up from Group A likely to be the weakest team in the last eight of the competition.
Get to the last four, and it's up for grabs, as Greece showed eight years ago when they won it at Euro 2004.
Expect the Germans to make it to that stage, and if a little bit of luck goes their way, then the trophy could be making its way back to this great footballing nation.
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